After surviving two close games with No. 23 Ole Miss, Tennessee co-head coach Karen Weekly knew that the Rebels weren’t going to be swept without a fight.
“They were gonna fight, scratch and claw to come out of here with a win,” Weekly said. “Today was a hard-fought victory, and I’m proud of our kids for stepping up to that challenge.”
Much like the first two games of the series, things were close in the early innings.
Friday starters Kaitlin Lee and Matty Moss started again in the series finale for Ole Miss (22-9, 0-6 SEC) and No. 20 Tennessee (26-5, 6-3 SEC), and both limited any sparks of offense from the opposition. Neither team had prime scoring opportunities until the third inning.
Ole Miss put runners on the corners in the top of the third against Moss after Elantra Cox singled, stole second and moved to third on a ground out. After Moss hit Miranda Strother with a pitch, the Vols opted for the relief duties of Caylan Arnold. Arnold responded by getting Sarah Van Schaik to ground out, leaving things scoreless.
“The coaches and the team definitely have confidence in (Matty or I) to come in and pitch when the other isn’t doing so well,” Arnold said after the win.
Arnold’s timely out sparked the Vols’ bats, which had failed to record a hit so far. Slugger Meghan Gregg doubled off the top of the right-field wall to set up Brooke Vines, who singled to score Gregg and open the scoring.
Both Lee and Arnold grooved their ways through the fourth until Arnold ran into trouble in the fifth. Kylan Becker led off the inning with a four-pitch walk, then stole second. After a sacrifice bunt, Cox reached first base on a strikeout after an outside pitch got away from Vol catcher Scarlet McSwain.
Tennessee elected to intentionally walk Strother and load the bases, but Arnold responded positively for the Vols again, striking out pinch-hitter Alyssa Gonzalez to get out of her second jam of the day. Arnold didn’t allow a hit until the seventh inning, pitching 4.1 innings and allowing just two hits and a run.
“After 31 games, these (young) kids have been through a lot,” Weekly said. “I’m 100 percent confident in Caylan out there now, in any situation.”
The Vols finally broke things open in the sixth inning. After Ole Miss intentionally walked Gregg with one out, the Rebels pulled Lee in favor of Alyssa Clayton. Clayton walked Vines, setting up Geer to deliver the biggest hit of the day. Geer unloaded on a 2-1 pitch, nailing a line-drive home run to put the Vols up 4-0.
“Ralph (Weekly) challenged our captains,” Weekly said. “You saw that the big hits came from all three of those guys.”
Arnold allowed a run in the top of the seventh after Cox doubled home Becker, but a nice pair of relay throws led to Cox being thrown out at third.
No. 20 Tennessee plays a doubleheader against Liberty (18-13, 5-1 Big South) on Tuesday. The games are scheduled for 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. ET.
Edited by Quinn Pilkey
Featured image by Brad Blackwelder