Vol softball drops road series to Mizzou

Tennessee softball entered this past weekend’s road series against Missouri with a full head of steam. However, defensive miscues in the infield took away the Vols’ momentum, resulting in back-to-back losses to close the series.

KNOXVILLE,TN - MARCH 25, 2016 - Pitcher/Outfielder Rainey Gaffin #42 during the game between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Tennessee Volunteers at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Craig Bisacre/Tennessee Athletics

The Tennessee softball team technically lost its series against the No. 15 ranked Missouri Tigers on Sunday, but co-head coach Karen Weekly believes the series slipped away on Saturday.

“We learned something about momentum this weekend,” Weekly said after Sunday’s game. “This series needed to be won yesterday. When you’re on the road and let one slip away… you let the other team get the momentum back.”

The Vols (27-10, 7-5 SEC) headed into Columbia this past weekend with rejuvenated momentum after sweeping Mississippi State at home the previous weekend.

But road games against ranked opponents haven’t gone Tennessee’s way this season. With Sunday’s 7-3 loss, the Vols’ record in such games dropped to 1-7.

According to co-head coach Ralph Weekly, self-inflicted errors are at the heart of the issue.

“Look at the game against Arizona State,” Weekly said before the series last week. “We call for an intentional walk and throw a wild pitch (causing an extra inning loss). In year’s past, those kind of games went our way. This year, they’re not.”

Momentum appeared to be on Tennessee’s side after its series-opening 7-3 victory. Senior Rainey Gaffin pitched all seven innings, allowing only two earned runs while striking out eight.

“The credit goes to the defense,” Gaffin said. “I know they have my back and without them I would have allowed a few more hits.”

But demons the Vol defense experienced earlier in the season resurfaced on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

Over those two games, the Tigers scored five unearned runs thanks to five Tennessee errors.

“You get what you earn and what you deserve in this game and in life,” Weekly said. “…four earned runs, but there’s seven on the board for Missouri.”

The Vols committed 66 errors in 64 games last season. In nearly 30 less games this season, they’ve already committed 44.

Errors in the infield came at inopportune times for Tennessee during Saturday’s game. First baseman Gretchen Aucoin’s miscue in the fifth led to a Missouri run that tied the game at four. Second baseman Aubrey Leach’s error in the following inning helped the Tigers nudge ahead.

Megan Geer, normally an outfielder, committed an error at third base on Sunday that resulted in two Tiger runs. Afterward, Karen regretted not playing Geer more at third throughout the season, a move she believed would have helped clean up the infield’s mistakes.

Ultimately, both Ralph and Karen Weekly feel this team — while showing flashes of promise against tough SEC opponents — still has a lot of growing up to do.

“With a young team, it’s hard to get them to understand you don’t get to hit a reset button,” Weekly said. “Especially with this generation, you don’t hit the refresh button and get to start over. Every play means something, every pitch means something, every swing means something. They have to have a little more sense of urgency.”

The Vols face Kennesaw State this Tuesday at home before their weekend series against the Texas A&M Aggies at Sherri Lee Parker stadium. First pitch is scheduled for Friday at 6 p.m. ET.

Featured image by Craig Bisacre, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Edited by Nathan Odom

+ posts

Follow me @DavidJBradford1 on Twitter, email me at dbradfo2@vols.utk.edu for any questions.