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Gibson Blasts Grand Slam as #7 Tennessee tops Illinois, 10-7


AUSTIN, Texas – Led by a season-best 12-hit offensive attack, the #7 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (6-1) fought off a stern challenge from Illinois to win a 10-7 slugfest on a cold and rainy Friday in Time Warner Invitational action at McCombs Field in Austin, Texas.

UT junior second baseman Lauren Gibson led the way for the Big Orange offense, posting a 3-for-3 effort at the plate with her second career grand slam and five RBIs.  The big fly marked the team-best fourth of the campaign for the Pasadena, Md., native over the initial seven contests of the year after blasting a total of eight during her entire sophomore season.

Sophomore shortstop Madison Shipman (2-for-3, RBI) joined Gibson as a part of the first back-to-back HR performance of 2012 with a solo shot during UT’s five-tally fourth frame.  Sophomore center fielder Tory Lewis (2-for-5, run, steal) and junior third baseman Melissa Brown (2-for-4, run) each posted a pair of hits, while junior designated player Kat Dotson returned to action following an injury by going 1-for-3 with two RBIs.

In the circle for the Lady Vols, junior Ivy Renfroe (1-1) picked up her first victory of the campaign via a relief effort, allowing two runs on four hits with a walk and five strikeouts over 3.0 frames of work.  Sophomore Ellen Renfroe made the start and eventually earned her first save of 2011 after permitting five runs on four hits with three walks and six K’s in 4.0 innings.

With one down in the top of the first, patience at the plate paid some dividends for the Lady Vols as senior catcher Ashley Andrews and Gibson drew back-to-back walks off Illinois starter Pepper Gay.  Facing a full count Shipman blooped a single into the outfield, packing the bags full of Big Orange.  Dotson stepped to the dish and managed a free pass on four pitches, forcing in a tally to grant UT a 1-0 advantage.  The number of consecutive balls thrown grew to eight as sophomore left fielder Melissa Davin walked on four consecutive offerings, bringing across Gibson with Tennessee’s second tally.  Illinois made a pitching change as Jackie Guy entered the circle, and she immediately settled the Illini down by posting consecutive K’s as the Lady Vols left the bases loaded.

Despite issuing a lead-off walk, Ellen Renfroe managed a strikeout of shortstop Jessica Davis for the opening retirement in the bottom of the first.  Third baseman Kelley Wedel was called out for leaving first early, and then UT’s Davin handled a liner to left by Illinois first baseman Meredith Hackett to end the initial frame with the Lady Vols in front, 2-0.

Gibson ripped a lead-off single into the outfield and quickly swiped her second base of 2012 to get Tennessee a runner in scoring position in the top of the third.  On a slow chopper to third by Shipman, Gibson made a heads-up base-running play by advancing up 60 feet on Illinois’ toss to first.  That set the stage for an RBI single off the bat of Dotson as the Big Orange’s advantage grew to 3-0.

The Fighting Illini finally managed its first hit in the bottom of the third via a one-out base knock to left center by catcher Stephanie Cuevas.  A pair of wild pitches, a walk and a hit batter quickly loaded the bags full for Illinois, setting the stage for a two-RBI single through the left side of the infield by Davis, cutting UT’s lead to just 3-2.  Two more wild offerings from Ellen Renfroe allowed the Illini to dead-lock the score at 3-all, forcing a call to the bullpen to summon in Ivy Renfroe for relief.  The first batter the 6-0 right-hander faced bounced out to first as another tally raced home to make it 4-3 in favor of UI.  UT’s reliever managed a big strikeout of second baseman Jami Schkade to finally get the Lady Vols out of the difficult inning.

Tennessee responded immediately via a combo of the short game and the long ball.  With one down Brown ripped a single through the infield and was soon joined on the base paths via a perfect bunt single by Lewis and a blooper off the bat of freshman catcher Hannah Akamine.  On a 1-0 offering Gibson crushed her second career grand slam well out of McCombs Field as the lead suddenly expanded to 7-4 Tennessee.  Shipman followed with a solo bomb on the very next pitch from Illinois’ pitcher Guy as UT recorded back-to-back HR’s for the first time in 2012.

Ivy Renfroe settled the contest down from the circle in relief, retiring eight of the first nine batters she faced until running into trouble during the bottom of the sixth.  That’s when designated player Jess Perkins and Schkade christened the frame with back-to-back singles to post runners at the corners.  Center fielder Brittany Sanchez and left fielder Alex Booker delivered RBI base knocks into left field as the Fighting Illini cut its deficit to 8-6.  Ellen Renfroe was re-entered back into the circle and immediately posted consecutive strikeouts to leave a trio stranded on the base paths.

Tennessee managed some valuable insurance in the top of the seventh as consecutive base knocks by freshman first baseman Cheyanne Tarango, Brown and Lewis loaded the bases with no one yet retired.  Akamine lifted a fly ball to the outfield that proved plenty deep enough for a sac fly RBI as junior pinch runner Whitney Hammond raced across from 60 feet away for a 9-6 advantage.  Gibson chopped a ball through the infield for her team-leading fifth RBI of the match-up as the UT lead expanded back to four runs.

Illinois managed to get one tally back opening the bottom of the seventh as Hackett blasted a solo shot to left to cut her team’s deficit to 10-7.  After permitting an infield single to third, Ellen Renfroe finished off her initial save of the campaign by retiring Schkade by K and then getting right fielder Danielle Vaji and Sanchez to groundout to first and second base, respectively.



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