Softball Preview: No. 12 UT at Puerto Vallarta Collegiate Challenge

Credit: UT Athletics

TEMPE, Ariz. — After an opening weekend in the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., marred by several weather interruptions and a defunct game, No. 12/12 Tennessee is moving forward to its next slate of competition at the Puerto Vallarta Collegiate Challenge in Mexico.

In the programs first-ever trip to Mexico, a five-game outing at the Campo de Softball Nancy Almaraz awaits the Lady Vols. Tennessee (3-1) is pitted against the Mexico National Team on Thursday at 11 a.m. (ET), in an exhibition game before their collegiate match-ups begin.

UT will then face Colorado State immediately after at 1:30 p.m. to conclude the doubleheader opening day.

The Lady Vols will play Friday’s games under the stars as first pitch against Utah is scheduled for 7 p.m. followed by No. 6/6 Texas at 9:30 p.m.

The ten-day journey concludes against California Baptist on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

Broadcast Info

Games will be live streamed on FloSoftball.com, a subscription-based service.

Quick Hits

Kajikawa Classic Recap

The Lady Vols finished 3-1 their opening weekend, which was not without its inconveniences. The Lady Vols overcame an early deficit to take down a then No. 14/15 Northwestern 6-3 and then run-ruled Kansas 10-2 in six innings to begin their weekend in the desert. A 13-6 game with Western Michigan was called in the bottom of the fourth, enforcing a hard-stop time to accommodate the Broncos travels. Because the teams did not complete five innings the game does not count. Sunday ended as disappointingly as it began, with UT falling to a then No. 5/5 Arizona 8-0 in five innings. A pair of errors and five walks in the first inning were costly as things evened out until the bottom of the fifth when the Wildcats picked up the three runs it needed to enact the run-rule. Tennessee’s final game against a then No. 22/22 Arizona State was delayed because of inclement weather and eventually postponed until Tuesday because of heavy rain in the top of the fourth. But UT’s defense was able to maintain and pull out a win an 8-5 win at ASU on Tuesday to conclude things on a high note.

Freshmen impressed early with Callie Turner making three starts in the circle and finishing with a 2-1 record, while Kiki Milloy became the first freshman to go-yard in their first-ever at bat since at least 2012. Milloy, the Woodinville, Wash., native sits atop of the batting order.

The Lady Vols recorded six home runs and also were pegged at the plate eight times.

This was the toughest opening weekend for Tennessee under current co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly as the Orange and White faced three ranked opponents for the first time since 1998.

Ally Shipman Returns

After being sidelined by a season-ending injury 22 games into her freshman campaign, sophomore catcher Ally Shipman returned to the middle of the order, making significant plays out the gate. She finished the opening stretch with a .571 hitting clip which currently ranks fifth in the SEC currently.

Young Pitchers Finding Their Spot

With sophomore ace and Preseason All-SEC honoree Ashley Rogers out temporarily with an injury, the Lady Vols have relied on an inexperienced staff in the circle to step up. Led by freshman Callie Turner who started three games, UT has been able to maintain in the toughest opening weekend since 1998. Turner holds a 2-1 win-loss record heading into the second weekend and maintains her confidence throwing an impressive 5.1 innings against Arizona State. While the Land O’Lakes, Fla., native may have struggled against Arizona, redshirt sophomore Samantha Bender provided relief in several outings and got her first win as a Lady Vol against Kansas. Bender, a transfer from Iona College, impressively stepped in, in the bottom of the first against Arizona with loaded bases and two outs and got the ground out to clip the Wildcats scoring frenzy. She then held the powerhouse scoreless for three innings before UT allowed three runs. Bender also picked up a save to lift UT past ASU. Freshman Anna Hazlewood also made a start and provided some relief over the weekend and will likely make additional appearances as Tennessee figures out the right formula for its staff.

25th Anniversary

On Feb. 23, 1996, Tennessee fielded its first softball team at the 10th Annual Louisiana Classics in Lafayette, La. A 1-0 loss to Baylor, a program that had been around since 1979, marked the beginning of what would become one of the Vols and Lady Vols premier athletic programs. The Lady Vols bounced back the following day to pick up the program’s first win, a 5-4 victory over the Bears and eventually took the series in a rubber match on Feb. 25, a 9-8, eight-inning victory. Fast forward to 2020 and 1,124 wins later, the Orange and White opens the programs 25th year in extant as the season commences on Feb. 8 in Tempe, Ariz., against Northwestern.

All-American Homecoming

In late January, Tennessee announced that it would host the U.S. Women’s National Team as part of Team USA’s “Stand Beside Her” Tour – a nationwide tour where the Red, White and Blue will face top Division I collegiate teams in preparation for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. On April 8, the Lady Vols face off against the WNT at Sherri Parker Lee and will welcome back Tennessee great Monica Abbott, a four-time All-American (2004-07), three-time SEC Pitcher of the Year (2004, 05, 07), USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year trophy winner and NCAA/UT program record holder. Tickets for the event are currently sold out, but the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

Hail Tennessee

Nearly half of the Lady Vols squad is made up of in-state talent. There are nine Tennessee natives on the 2020 roster, believed to be a record for the program. Seniors Treasuary Poindexter (Covington, Tenn.) and Cailin Hannon (Franklin, Tenn.) and sophomores Kaili Phillips (Ooltewah, Tenn.) and Ashley Rogers (Athens, Tenn.) are joined by freshmen Anna Fox (Columbia, Tenn.), KK McCrary (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Josie Willingham (Medon, Tenn.), Anna Hazlewood (Martin, Tenn.) and Madison Webber (Sevierville, Tenn.).

Scouting Report

Mexico

Mexico became the fourth Nation to qualify to the six-team Softball Olympic event in Tokyo 2020. The team went undefeated to win the WBSC Softball Americas Qualification event, held in Surrey, Canada, from 25 August to 1 September, qualifying for the Olympic Games for the first time ever. Mexico also qualified to the WBSC Women’s Softball World Cup 2021.

Colorado State

2020 record: 4-1, 0-0 Mountain West

Series record: First-ever meeting

Key player/stat: Led by senior third baseman Corina Gamboa who finished the opening weekend with a .429 hitting average behind six hits, including a quartet of doubles and as many RBI. Junior outfielder Jordan Acosta (.273) is also one to watch, particularly once she gets aboard, going a perfect 3-for-3 in stolen bases.

Utah

2020 record: 5-0, 0-0 Pac-12

Series record: 5-3

Last outing: UT run-ruled the Utah in Clearwater, Fla., 10-1 in six innings on Feb. 16, 2019.

Key player/stat: The Utes recorded a 3-2 upset over No. 14/15 Northwestern in its lid-lifter at the Kajikawa Classic. Utah outhit its opponents 40-20 across its first five games, led by Alyssa Barrera’s seven hits and .583 batting average. The Utes have only given up eight runs and six RBI. In the circle, ace Sydney Sandez boasts a 0.98 ERA and picked up four wins.

No. 6/6 Texas

2020 record: 6-0, 0-0 Big 12

Series record: 3-4

Last outing: Tennessee and Texas split their 2019 series 1-1 in Knoxville, with the No. 11 Longhorns coming up with a 2-0 win on March 17 to close the Tennessee Invitational.

Key player/stat: Standout senior pitcher/utility player Miranda Elish was named the Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Division I National Player of the Week on Feb. 11. During the Texas Classic, Elish hit an .818 (9-for-11) clip with seven runs scored, three doubles, four homers, including her second career grand slam, and 17 RBIs.

California Baptist

2020 record: 2-3, 0-0 WAC

Series record: First-ever meeting

Key player/stat: The Lancers are collectively hitting a .289 percentage, while allowing opponents an average hitting clip of .320. CBU is led offensively by redshirt junior shortstop Abby Robertson, who transferred from Utah. Robertson is batting .400 and has recorded six hits and seven runs. Five Lancers are hitting above .300 and have the ability to come up with multi-base hits, particularly senior first baseman Mackenzie Budinger who’s recorded three doubles and two dingers so far.

Up Next

The Lady Vols return to the east coast, but will head to Tampa, Fla., for the USF Invitational Feb. 21-23. Tennessee will open a Friday doubleheader with FIU at 11:30 a.m. (ET), followed by UCF at 2 p.m. Saturday UT will have a rematch with the Knights at 9 a.m. before taking on host-team USF at 2 p.m. On getaway day, the Lady Vols will take on the Bulls at 11:30 a.m. The games will be played at USF Softball Stadium.

 

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