Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Lady Vols flying solo

Clay, Doepking hit home runs while Abbott dominant again with four-hitter

OKLAHOMA CITY - Tennessee's Lady Vols need one victory to secure their first national championship in softball.

They defeated defending national champion Arizona 3-0 in the opening game of the Women's College World Series championship Monday night.

UT (63-6) plays the Wildcats (48-14-1) again tonight (TV: ESPN2, 8 p.m.) in the second game of the best-of-three series at Hall of Fame Stadium. A third game would be played at 8 p.m. Wednesday, if necessary.

"The first thing I told the team when they came off the field is they have nothing to celebrate,'' said Karen Weekly, who along with her husband, Ralph, serves as UT's co-head coach. "We still have another game we have to win. I'm sure Washington felt pretty good heading into their action with Arizona Sunday.''

The Wildcats won three consecutive elimination games, including two against the Huskies on Sunday, to reach the championship series.

But it was USA Softball Player of the Year Monica Abbott (50-3) who was dominant Monday night, extending her scoreless innings streak to 332/3, including 28 scoreless innings in the WCWS.

Abbott fanned eight, giving her 57 strikeouts through 28 innings in the WCWS, seven short of the tourney record set by Arizona's Alicia Hollowell in six games last year. UT is 4-0 in the CWS.

Freshman Alexia Clay and Shannon Doepking hit solo home runs in the second and fourth innings, respectively, off Arizona starter Taryne Mowatt (40-11), and India Chiles delivered a pinch-hit, two-out bases-loaded single in the top of the seventh inning to drive home the other run.

Chiles was out of the lineup after starting UT's first three WCWS games with a torn ACL in her right knee. Chiles' leads Lady Vols' starters with a .455 batting average in Oklahoma City.

"India had a little bit of swelling last night, and the doctors said that was an accumulation of everything she's been trying to do the last two weeks,'' Weekly said. "The swelling was gone this morning, but we thought it would be best to rest her tonight.''

Arizona coach Mike Candrea, whose team has won seven national championships and played in the finals 12 of the past 17 years, said the Wildcats will be ready to bounce back.

"We've been here before, and as long as we've got innings left, we've got a chance,'' Candrea said. "I guarantee you this team will not lay down and die.''

An SEC team has never won the WCWS in its 26-year history, and only one other team from East of the Mississippi River, Michigan (2005) has accomplished the feat.

If the Lady Vols accomplish their mission, they'll do so in front of UT women's basketball coach Pat Summitt, who's expected to attend tonight's game. Summitt was here in 2005 to see the Lady Vols' softball team play in their first WCWS appearance.

Clay's fourth home run of the season nicked off the mitt of Arizona center fielder Caitlin Lowe, who knocked the yellow padding off the top of the wall. Lowe then spiked her glove into the grass before replacing the padding.

Doepking left no doubt with her sixth home run, a high arcing shot to left field.

Arizona threatened in the third when Sam Banister lined a leadoff single to left field and pinch runner Jill Malina moved to second on a sacrifice. After striking out Adrienne Acton, Abbott intentionally walked Lowe - who's hitting a team-best .415 - before getting Chelsie Mesa to fly out to end the inning.

The Wildcats, seeking their eighth national title, also got singles from Jenae Leles in the fourth inning, Kristie Fox in the sixth and Banister in the seventh, but never again got a runner as far as second base.

Mowatt also pitched a complete game, giving up six hits and three walks. She struck out five.

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