The Lady Vols Tennessee softball team is gearing up to play their rival, defending national champion Alabama.
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The No. 8/10 Tennessee softball team enters the second phase of its 2013 season this week when it opens Southeastern Conference play at home against rival and defending national champion No. 1/2 Alabama.
The homecoming comes immediately after a 25-day grind that saw Tennessee (19-3) playing 21 of its first 22 games on the road, often in unseasonably cold conditions. The Lady Vols battled through this gauntlet of travel, chilly weather and limited rest to prepare for the trials of the SEC portion of their schedule.
"As we conclude our pre-conference schedule, I am really proud of our girls for being road warriors and for playing in some of the coldest temperatures I've ever coached in since I've been at Tennessee," Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "We concluded this last trip with a victory at Charleston Southern in a wind chill of about 37 degrees, and I was especially proud of the girls. I've seen them play better, but I've never seen them play tougher. I know I wore about five layers of clothes myself, and it's amazing to think that Ellen Renfroe got 11 strikeouts in that weather. I had trouble holding a clipboard."
The Lady Vols enter SEC play in midseason form in both the batter's box and the pitcher's circle. The team is batting .346 as a team and averaging 7.5 runs per game while limiting opponents to a .164 batting average and 1.2 runs per contest. Tennessee's pitchers have combined for a 1.15 ERA and struck out 156 batters over 140.0 innings of work.
Seven UT batters are hitting .322 or higher. Senior Raven Chavanne leads the team with a .471 batting average, a .549 on-base percentage and 17 stolen bases. Senior Lauren Gibson is batting .400 with three homers, four doubles, one triple and 16 RBIs. Gibson and Chavanne are tied for the team lead with 24 runs scored. Sophomore Cheyanne Tarango has been a key power hitter for Tennessee so far this season and leads the team with five homers and 24 RBIs. Junior Madison Shipman continues to serve as one of the team's main run producers, accounting for 21 RBIs and scored 20 runs. Senior Kat Dotson has come up with some key hits, tallying two doubles, three triples, three homers and 19 RBIs.
In the circle, all four of Tennessee's pitchers have enjoyed a strong start to 2013. Junior Ellen Renfroe is 7-1 with an 0.80 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 52.1 innings of work. Senior Ivy Renfroe is 6-1 with an 0.91 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 46.1 frames.
The season started at the Red Desert Classic from Feb. 7-9 as UT took wins over Southern Utah, Idaho State, Utah State, South Dakota and BYU to post a 5-0 record. The final game against Oklahoma State was canceled by the tournament director due to a wind chill of 32 degree.
In Tennessee's second week of travel, the Lady Vols headed south to Tampa, Fla., to play in the USF Tournament. UT swept the field going 5-0 against North Carolina State, Coastal Carolina and then-No. 12/12 USF in a tournament format.
The Lady Vols made a second trip west of the Mississippi for the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Cathedral City, Calif., from Feb. 21-23. UT went 3-2 in Palm Springs, winning three games by shutout and falling to Northwestern, 3-2, and then-No.16/13 UCLA, 2-0. The tournament schedule featured a stretch where UT played three games over an 18-hour period and also included two games played at 8:30 p.m. Pacific Time/11:30 p.m. Eastern Time.
Tennessee defeated Lipscomb, 6-0, in its 2013 home opener on Feb. 26 before heading to South Carolina to play at College of Charleston on Feb. 28 and compete in the Buccaneer Invitational from March 1-3. UT suffered a 3-1 setback at CofC, but bounced back in the Buccaneer Invitational, going 5-0 and winning the tournament.
From start to finish, the Lady Vols, who combined for a 3.42 GPA in the fall, also managed a lot of study time during the packed schedule of competition.
"We studied on the bus, in the rooms and on airplanes," Weekly said. "I'm very proud of the team's fall GPA and the players' approach academically. Academics will always be a top priority at home or on the road."
"Karen and I are extremely pleased with the way our team and staff continue to represent Tennessee on the field and in the classroom."