Lady Vols open tournament play against pacific
The No. 6/5 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (13-0) will jet to the west coast this weekend to participate in the prestigious Palm Springs Classic in Palm Springs, Calif., over Feb 25-27. The Orange & White have a challenging slate of contests awaiting them as UT will face No. 20 Pacific, No. 18/22 Oregon State, No. 25/23 Long Beach State, No. 2/1 California and Notre Dame. Last year, Tennessee went 2-1 at the Palm Springs event with victories over Baylor (2-0) and Utah (4-1), and a 3-0 loss to No. 1 UCLA. Tennessee is currently 3-0 this season versus ranked opponents after downing then-No. 15 Baylor (4-0), No. 22 Nebraska (5-0) and No. 8 Washington (2-1) at the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Las Vegas, Nev., on Feb. 12-13. By playing the top-ranked Cal Golden Bears on Saturday, UT will be looking to register the program’s first victory over a No. 1 team as five previous match ups (UCLA-four times, Arizona-once) against the nation’s top squad have went against Tennessee. The Orange & White enter this weekend’s event on an unprecedented roll with 13 consecutive wins marking the program’s best opening to a campaign in its 10-year existence. The current skein stands as the third-longest single-season winning streak in school history after the 1996 squad won 19 straight (4/10-4/28/96) and the 2004 group won 16 consecutive games (3/16-4/3/04). The longest overall winning streak in school history is 24 games counting the final 19 match ups of 1996 and the opening five contests of 1997. Tennessee has outscored its opponents thus far in 2005 by a combined score of 74-2 while its pitchers have allowed just 17 hits in 84 innings and posted an ERA of 0.17.After blowing through the competition at last weekend’s Georgia Southern Invitational in Statesboro, Ga., by a combined score of 36-0, the Lady Vols enter action in Palm Springs on a roll both on the mound and at the plate. Junior centerfielder Sarah Fekete currently leads the Southeastern Conference and the UT squad in hitting at .575 after an All-Tournament weekend in which she hit .615 with seven stolen bases and five runs scored. Junior third baseman Kristi Durant (.444, 15 RBI) was Tennessee’s clutch hitter at GSU by batting .615 with 10 RBI, including a stellar 2-for-3, four RBI performance in the championship game victory over Illinois-Chicago (8-0, 5 inn.). The Orange & White have even created a power surge at the plate as seven different Lady Vol players have registered at least one of Tennessee’s SEC-leading 13 home runs (tied with Auburn). Junior utility player Katherine Card and freshman catcher Shannon Doepking each have three round-trippers while freshman first baseman Tonya Callahan and junior rightfielder Stacey Jennings have went deep twice. Sophomores Monica Abbott (P), Lindsay Schutzler (SS) and Ashley Cline (2B) all have blasted their first career homers in 2005.Tennessee continued to receive stellar pitching from the circle at the GSU Invitational as the duo of Abbott (8-0, 0.12 ERA) and freshman Megan Rhodes held UT’s five opponents to just six hits while striking out 56 in 29 innings of work. Abbott, a Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-American, posted a 3-0 mark at GSU with 36 K’s in 19 innings pitched. Rhodes (4-0, 0.34 ERA), the Tennessee career high school strikeout champion, had perhaps the best weekend of the pair by throwing her first collegiate no-hitter in the 9-0 rout of Charleston Southern (2/18). She almost made it back-to-back no-no’s against Mercer (2/19) but allowed a soft single that dropped between third base and short for the Bears only hit in a 12-0 defeat.The Orange & White enter this weekend’s tournament without a lot of historical success against its five opponents (2-11 overall). UT has a 1-1 record against Long Beach State, a 1-4 mark versus Oregon State and identical 0-2 slates against Pacific, California and Notre Dame. Tennessee and Oregon State played twice in 2004 with the teams splitting a pair of 2-0 decisions.... read the rest of the story by Subscribing now.