Lady Vols fall to Georgia in weekend series

After South Carolina swept them last weekend, the eighth-ranked Lady Vols (31-5) dropped yet another weekend series to No. 6 Georgia. Tennessee now sits at a dismal 4-5 in conference play to start the season. The Bulldogs outscored Tennessee by a combined score of 17-2 in the three-game series in Knoxville.

“Softball is a game of momentum and a game of one-on-one matchups, and right now we’re not winning those,” Lady Vols co-head coach Karen Weekly said. “We just can’t get that clutch hit when we need it or get that clutch pitch when we need to shut them down.”

The orange-and-white kicked off the weekend series on a high note Saturday, shutting out the Lady Bulldogs by a score of 1-0. While hitting fell short for Tennessee, pitching shined. The dominant veteran pitching duo of Caylan Arnold and Matty Moss combined for eight strikeouts in seven innings for the win.

The only run of the game came in the seventh inning. Senior infielder Meghan Gregg showed patience at the plate and drew a walk with the bases loaded to give the Lady Vols a 1-0 lead.

Georgia walked three straight batters with no outs to give up the winning run. Gregg also passed former USA Softball National Player of the Year candidate Tonya Callahan for the most RBI’s in school history with 242.

“I wasn’t really thinking about that at all (the record) but getting our first series win over Georgia was big,” Gregg said after the game. “I think we kept pounding and finally broke it up in the seventh inning.”

Sunday proved sour for the Lady Vols, as they lost by a score of 9-1 in six innings. The script flipped for Arnold on the mound, as she gave up eight runs in just four innings of play. Freshman pitcher Gabby Sprang finished out with no earned runs and four strikeouts, but the Lady Vols couldn’t get their bats going to keep the game competitive.

Tennessee’s only run of the game came in the second inning off an RBI single from junior infielder Aubrey Leach. Georgia registered three batters with at least two hits in the win. The Vols notched just five hits total.

“We got beat in every aspect. Offense, defense, pitching,” Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “I don’t think it was from a lack of effort, I think it was a lack of execution.”

The final series game ended with a tough loss for the Vols Monday. They lost 8-0 to log their first shutout loss of the season. The last time Tennessee faced a shutout came nearly one year ago against Florida. Pitching issues remained a problem for the Vols. Moss gave up an uncharacteristic seven earned runs in six innings of work.

Tennessee tallied just four hits on the afternoon and combined for just 11 hits through the series. Georgia scored at least one run in every inning but the fifth to dominate the Lady Vols Monday.

“I think we’re fighting and probably stressing because we’re not winning those battles,” K. Weekly said. “That’s probably some of the best ball they’ve (Georgia) played all year, too.”

Tennessee gets back in action on Tuesday at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium against its in-state rival Tennessee State. First pitch its slated for 6 p.m. ET and can be viewed on SEC Network+.

Written by Seth Raborn

Edited by Lexie Little

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee sweeps home-opening doubleheader

Photo by Brad Blackwelder.

Tennessee (15-2) leaned on the reliable arm of Matty Moss and bat of Meghan Gregg to take doubleheader games from Southeastern Louisiana (8-9) and Ohio (9-2) in the team’s home openers at the Tennessee Invitational.

Moss, Gregg lead Tennessee to 8-0 win in home opener

After allowing three hits in the first six batters she faced, Tennessee sophomore Matty Moss settled in and allowed just one hit the rest of the way in a 5.2 inning, four-hit pitching performance that held Southeastern Louisiana at bay en route to an 8-0 (6) win.

Moss (8-0) threw almost four consecutive no-hit innings after allowing a single to start off the second inning. Kelsey Morrison relieved her and struck out the only batter that Moss didn’t face on the afternoon.

Tennessee’s offense was slow to get going, but consistent once the hits started. Scarlet McSwain was hit by a pitch with one out in the second inning before stealing second. An errant throw from Southeastern Louisiana’s catcher on the steal attempt allowed McSwain to take third, setting up a prime RBI opportunity for Chelsea Seggern.

Seggern delivered, doubling to left center off of the glove of Lion center fielder Maddie Edmonston’s glove to drive in the Vols’ first run. Seggern was one of three Vol players with multiple hits, going 2 for 3 with that lone RBI. Tennessee got another run in the third inning on a Taylor Rowland RBI single before Meghan Gregg put things out of reach in the fourth.

After two quick outs to begin the inning, the Vols loaded the bases after Aubrey Leach doubled, Jenna Holcomb bunted for a single and Brooke Vines walked to bring up Gregg. She drove the second pitch of the at bat well over the left-center wall to plate all four runs and extend Tennessee’s lead to 6-0. The grand slam extended her team-leading RBI total to 27.

Cailin Hannon singled in the Vols’ seventh run in the fifth inning, then pinch hitter Katie Weimer drew a walk with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth to clinch the run-rule victory.

Tennessee jumps ahead early, hangs on for 2-1 win over Ohio

Tennessee scored two first-inning runs and leaned on the relief performance of Matty Moss (9-0) to win a pitching duel and sweep the home-opening doubleheader, 2-1.

Like game one, the Vols struck first to put pressure on the visitors.

Leadoff hitter Aubrey Leach walked on four pitches to open the Vols’ first inning at the plate, then took second on a wild pitch. Brooke Vines followed with an infield single before both runners moved up 60 feet on another wild pitch. Tennessee slugger Meghan Gregg followed with a two-run double — Tennessee’s only runs of the game. Gregg went 1-for-2 to cap a 4-for-5, six-RBI doubleheader performance.

“(Gregg’s) just a hitting machine,” Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said after the games. “She’s good as of a hitter as I’ve seen”

Pitching dominated the rest of the game.

After giving up Gregg’s double, Ohio pitcher Savannah Jo Dorsey (4-1) settled in. Dorsey didn’t allow another hit until Leach’s infield single to open the fifth inning. The Vols recorded just one more hit, a single to third from freshman Jenna Holcomb in the sixth inning.

Freshman and Maryville native Caylan Arnold started in the hill, but only pitched 3.1 innings after running into some trouble. Ohio scored its only run in the third inning with three-straight singles, the last scoring a run to cut Tennessee’s run in half. Arnold got a groundout to end the inning, but couldn’t escape the fourth.

Tennessee pulled Arnold in favor for Moss after Arnold gave up a one-out walk and a double, putting runners on second and third. Moss got a groundout and a strikeout to end the threat. From then on, Moss picked up from where she left off in game one. She allowed just two baserunners — a single and a walk — over the game’s final 3.2 innings.

“She was hitting her spots,” Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said after the games. “She just gutted it out.”

Edited by Robert Hughes

Featured image by Brad Blackwelder

2017 Tennessee softball season preview

It’s officially softball time in Tennessee.

Coming off of a strong 2016 campaign in which Tennessee went 43-16 and 16-7 in SEC play, the Vols look to build off last year’s success and take the next step in order to reach the College World Series once again.

The Vols enter the 2017 season ranked No. 15 in both the USA Today/NFCA Division I Preseason Coaches’ Poll and the Softball Collegiate Preseason Top 25. In the SEC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, Tennessee has been selected to finish fifth in the conference for the second consecutive season.

“This team has the ability to be really good,” Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said on Wednesday afternoon. “I think this is going to be a good year.”

Tennessee brings back four players who earned SEC postseason honors a year ago, while seven of their top ten hitters from 2016 return as well. The Vols are led by preseason All-SEC selections Meghan Gregg and Megan Geer. Gregg, a junior shortstop for the Volunteers, hit .383 and 11 home runs last season while driving in 61 runs and swiping 14 bags, all career highs. Geer, a senior utility player for the Vols, also set career highs in 2016, batting .368, driving in 55 runs and stealing 25 bases.

Heading into her senior season, Geer has been named to the 2017 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Top 50 Watch List.

With Geer and Gregg headlining the group, Tennessee’s starting lineup has the potential to be a constant headache from top to bottom for opposing teams. Sophomore outfielder Brooke Vines returns after hitting .360 and scoring 46 runs as a true freshman. Infielder Aubrey Leach enters her sophomore season after hitting .348 as a true freshman. Sophomore Abby Lockman has made the switch to catcher, while junior Scarlett McSwain will also be playing some catcher as well. Lockman hit two homers as a true freshman in 2016, while McSwain is a career .276 hitter.

McSwain will be the starting catcher when the Vols kick their season off on Friday afternoon, but Lockman will receive plenty of playing time behind the plate as well.

“It’s been Abby and Scarlett and they’re gonna rotate,” Weekly said, while adding, “both of them have pretty strong arms.”

Lockman is enthusiastic about her new role with the team, saying “I think it’s going to be a great year and I’m very excited to step into this role and help the team.”

Three other names to look out for in 2017: Freshman infielder Chelsea Seggern, redshirt freshman Taylor Rowland and sophomore catcher/infielder Haley Bearden. All three are expected to make big contributions to the Tennessee lineup according to Weekly.

While the Vols offense is locked and loaded for 2017, uncertainties surround an inexperienced, but talented pitching staff.

“That’s probably the biggest challenge in what we’re facing,” Weekly said of the pitching situation. “My only concern is the pitching and not that the pitchers are not good, but that they’re young.”

In the circle, sophomore Matty Moss returns as the only pitcher on Tennessee’s roster who has pitched against Division I competition. Moss, an All-SEC freshman in 2016, led the Vols’ pitching staff with a 1.68 ERA and 7-2 record in conference play. Overall, Moss went 12-5 on the season, striking out 87 hitters compared to only 22 walks.

Junior college transfer Alex Brake looks to help out Moss in the circle. Brake is the two-time NJCAA Division ll National Pitcher of the Year (2015-2016). While at Labette Community College, Brake recorded 47 wins, a 1.64 ERA and 597 strikeouts in 430.1 innings pitched.

Freshman Caylan Arnold and sophomore Mary Beth Brumit will also look to help out the Vols in the circle throughout the course of the 2017 season. While the group may be inexperienced, Weekly is excited about the potential the group brings as a whole, as all four bring different elements to the table.

Tennessee kicks off its season at the Eagle Round Robin in Statesboro, Georgia on Feb. 10, where they’ll participate in a double-header against Tennessee Tech at 12 p.m. ET and Middle Tennessee State at 2 p.m. ET.

The Vols’first home game will be March 2 against Southeastern Louisiana at 3 p.m. ET in the Tennessee invitational.

Edited by David Bradford

Featured image by Craig Bisacre, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Leach’s growth at second base boosting team’s chemistry

A house divided against itself cannot stand.

Freshman Aubrey Leach has done her part to ensure the Tennessee softball team doesn’t face that problem.

On the brutally competitive field of Texas softball — where the University of Texas and Texas A&M routinely grab the state’s top talent — Leach, a Texas native, decided to be different and become the first player from the Lone Star State to play softball for co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly.

Leach, who is a political science major, attributes her interest in political science largely to her father, who works for the government as a federal agent.

Interestingly enough, with the 2016 Presidential Election just months away, the fields of politics and athletics contain a host of similarities.

Congress has developed a dysfunctional reputation, with the majority of the public viewing politicians as self-serving and untrustworthy. These qualities that have caused gridlock over significant issues.

In athletics, results on the field can suffer if the team experiences the same dysfunction. But the Vols (26-8, 6-3 SEC) have bonded despite 11 incoming freshmen.

“This team’s chemistry (off the field) is awesome,” Leach said. “We gel really well together. I guess the hardest part was working together on the field.”

On the field, Leach has grown into her role as the team’s starting second baseman, displaying characteristics every teammate and leader strive to achieve.

1) Experience. Despite being a freshman, Leach’s tenure as the Texas Sudden Impact softball club’s captain for four years helped ease the transition between club softball and college softball.

“Ralph and Karen (Weekly) expect a lot from us and we don’t play by classes,” Leach said. “Being in the infield you have to talk it up and be loud… being a leader is finding a way to motivate people even when they don’t want to be motivated.”

Leach is certainly leading by example, batting .333 in 34 games this season.

2) Dependability. There is no question that this Volunteer softball team is a batch of talented, yet young and inexperienced players. However, rather than using youth as an excuse, the freshmen established an inseparable bond through their common ground, especially between Leach and Brooke Vines.

“Aubrey has been my companion,” Vines said with a smile. “When it comes to trying to figure things out or trying to calm each other down, she’s been someone I can rely on and just have someone to talk to.”

3) Flexibility. Second base has been Leach’s home all season, but in the lineup, the Weekly’s have moved her from top to bottom.

“Aubrey can bat at the top,” Weekly said. “She can bat one, two, or nine. For us, nine is the second leadoff hitter… I don’t expect her to hit nine her whole career.”

Maybe she should. In the nine slot, Leach is batting .556.

4) Passion. Leach might only stand at 5-foot-4, but her competitive spirit and drive remind Weekly of Tennessee softball legend Lauren Gibson, a former All-American and SEC Player of the Year.

“Aubrey has had some ups and downs,” Weekly said. “But she is clearly a very good SEC player with a bright future. I think Aubrey is very hard on herself, she expects to make every play, and I want our players to be that way, but nobody makes every play.”

Leach did not detail her personal political views, but revealed a humorous observation.

“I think a lot of the controversy (in politics) is from the candidates being on such a differing range of spectrums,” Leach said. “It’s kind of like the lesser of two crazies.”

Tennessee softball established a pipeline in Texas when it snagged Leach, increasing its range of influence, but the team remains on the same side of the spectrum.

“I think we’re kinda hitting our stride right now and being that aggressive Tennessee softball team we know we can be,” Leach said.

Featured image by Hayley Pennesi, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Edited by Cody McClure