Sitting just percentage points behind Eastern Division leader Georgia entering the week, the Lady Vol softball team will host South Carolina in a three-game set at Tyson Park beginning with a doubleheader Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m. Having missed the Southeastern Conference Tournament for the past two seasons, Tennessee (31-14-1/6-7 SEC) looks to edge closer toward punching its ticket for the postseason versus the defending East champion Gamecocks (23-11/4-5 SEC). USC swept last season's series in Columbia behind three shutouts from All-American pitcher Megan Matthews and Stacey Johnson.
"The biggest challenge we have against South Carolina is to score runs," said co-head coach Ralph Weekly. "They have excellent pitching, as is evidenced by that fact that Tennessee was completely shutout in last season's series. The Gamecocks are extremely well coached by Joyce Compton and have been among the top three teams in the SEC for the past several years. We look forward to the opportunity to competing against them."
Tennessee is coming off a shortened series against Mississippi State in which the squads split two games last Friday. Junior right-hander Stephanie Humphrey chalked up her eighth solo shutout in the opener, 2-0, before the Bulldogs struck back with eight runs on 10 hits to seize game two, 8-1. Humphrey holds the key to the Lady Vols' fortunes in the circle, as she is 21-9 with a 1.42 earned run average and 259 strikeouts in 177.1 innings.
Senior Adrianna Wilson, though limited to an 0-for-6 showing by MSU, is hitting .375 with 39 RBI and 10 homers. Junior Carissa Roustan, who made her pitching debut in a relief role in the second contest with the 'Dogs, is up to .324 and has driven in 35 runs. Freshman Amber Rhinehart (.319, 17 RBI, 4 triples) and junior Blaine Teasley (.302, 29 RBI, 11 HR) round out the hitters over .300 for the Lady Volunteers.
The Gamecocks have been off since hammering East Tennessee State twice on March 27, 9-0 (5) and 14-0 (5). In its last SEC activity, USC was blanked by LSU's All-American duo of Britni Sneed and Kristin Schmidt three times over March 23-24 in Baton Rouge: 6-0, 8-0 (6) and 1-0. Previously, Carolina had taken two of three games from Arkansas and Mississippi State in league play.
Sophomore outfielder Melissa Sandel leads South Carolina with a .325 batting average and ranks fourth on her club with 16 RBI. Senior Adrianna Baggetta (.323) has five doubles and a pair of triples in addition to 10 RBI, while junior Kim Evans (.307) is tied for the team lead with 22 runs. Sophomore shortstop Amber Curtis (.283) has a driven in a team-best 22 runs and has scored 22 times, to go along with seven two-baggers and five homers. Rookie Meghan Cornett (.292) has 21 RBI, five doubles, three triples and a homer.
On the mound, Matthews looks to round out her career in fine fashion, as the right-hander is 13-4 with a 1.25 ERA, nine solo shutouts and has fanned 128 batters in 112.1 innings. Stacey Johnson is 7-5 with a 1.91 ERA with 69 K in 77.0 innings, while freshman Aleca Johnson (3-1, 2.43 ERA) has hurled 31.2 frames.
USC's possesses a staff ERA of 1.82, compared to the Lady Vols' 1.90.
With the exception of a road series win in 1999, UT has struggled against the University of South Carolina since the series began in '97. UT has lost five of the last six meetings for an 11-7 deficit in the series. The Orange is 3-5 against the Gamecocks in Knoxville and 4-6 in Columbia.
The entire series will be televised on a tape-delayed basis by CSS, with play-by-play chores being handled by Bobby Rader and color analysis from Cheri Kempf. Tuesday's doubleheader will be shown on Thursday at 7 p.m., while Wednesday's single game will be aired on Saturday at noon.