KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Seven runs in the fifth and sixth innings lifted the No. 9-seeded Lady Vols to a convincing 8-1 victory over Eastern Kentucky to open the Knoxville Regional of the NCAA Softball Tournament Friday evening at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium.
Junior pitcher Ashley Rogers spun her 24th complete game of the season and picked up the win, improving her record to 26-8 on the year. The Athens, Tennessee, native allowed one earned run on four hits while collecting six strikeouts with no walks surrendered.
Senior right fielder Amanda Ayala led the Big Orange at the dish, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored. Seven other Lady Vols recorded one hit each, highlighted by a three-run homer for senior shortstop Ivy Davis.
After back-to-back singles put runners on the corners in the bottom of the first, Tennessee (42-13) got on the board with an infield single to third by junior catcher Ally Shipman. Ayala crossed the plate to give the Big Orange a 1-0 lead in the early going.
Eastern Kentucky (35-16) responded in the top half of the second, tying the game as redshirt freshman Miranda Lopez roped an RBI double down the left field line to score Vianna Barron who had reached on a leadoff single.
With the game knotted at one apiece, EKU’s Mollie Paulick entered the circle in relief and both pitchers combined to retire 15 consecutive batters. Paulick led off the top of the fifth with a single to right center, but her pinch runner was left stranded after an outstanding leaping catch in left field by Cailin Hannon ended the frame and saved a potential run scoring opportunity for the Colonels.
Tennessee capitalized on its defensive momentum and regained the lead with a pair of runs in the bottom half of the fifth. After Kaitlin Parsons stole second, pinch hitter Madison Webber brought her home with a go-ahead single to left to make it a 2-1 ballgame. Webber later scored from second on an RBI single to center by Ayala that gave the Lady Vols a 3-1 advantage.
UT blew the game open with five runs in the bottom of the sixth, beginning with a one-out RBI single to third from Parsons that brought in freshman Kaylan Cole. With runners on the corners, Davis stepped up to the plate and launched her 16th home run of the season off the top of the left center field wall to drive in three more for the Lady Vols. Ayala capped her strong offensive outing with a single to right field, scoring Kiki Milloy from second.
After giving up two hits in the second, Rogers sat down 16 of her last 19 batters faced and retired the side in order on three occasions Friday evening. The junior ace held EKU scoreless for five-straight innings to end the game and cement the final score, 8-1.
The No. 9-seeded Lady Vols will take on No. 22 James Madison Saturday at noon, with first pitch set for 12 p.m. ET at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium. The Dukes knocked off No. 25 Liberty 4-3 in the opening game of the Knoxville Regional.