What was anticipated as a pitcher's duel at Tyson Park in the deciding game of the teams' series on Saturday afternoon between Auburn senior Kristen Keyes and Tennessee freshman Monica Abbott lived up to its billing through the first three innings.
However, the 12th-ranked Lady Vols would snap a scoreless tie by tallying three runs in the fourth on its way to a 4-0 triumph. Abbott (34-5) limited the 23rd-rated Tigers to only a third-inning single by junior Lolani Alvarez and established a personal-best in conference play with 17 strikeouts on the way to her 16th solo shutout and sixth one-hitter of the campaign.
With just its second series win over Auburn (30-10, 11-7 SEC) in the eight years of SEC softball, Tennessee (41-10, 14-6 SEC) matched its league victory total from 2003.
In posting her third consecutive shutout and lowering her earned run average to 0.73, Abbott brought her nation-leading strikeout total to 451 with her 27th double-digit K performance of the year. The lefty is now tied for 10th on the NCAA's single-season list for strikeouts with Oklahoma State's Lauren Bay, who accomplished the feat last spring.
Next in Abbott's sights is a familiar face, Lady Vol pitching coach Michele Granger, who fanned 463 batters during her sophomore season at California in 1991.
"Today was a fantastic team effort," co-coach Karen Weekly said. "I was really proud of our offense, especially since we struggled against (Kristen) Keyes last night. Our kids responded well this afternoon and came through with clutch hits with runners in scoring position.
"Monica had one of her best games of the year and it was important that she shut down the top of Auburn's batting order."
Tennessee erupted for three runs on four hits in the fourth to chase senior Kristen Keyes from the circle. Sophomore Kristi Durant roped a one-out double off the center field wall and senior Lauren Mattox followed with another two-bagger to plate senior pinch runner Ellisha Humphrey with the game's first run.
Senior Amber Rhinehart stepped to the dish and ripped a base-hit up the middle to bring across freshman pinch runner Ashley Cline with UT's second run. Sophomore Stacey Jennings punched a single into right field, advancing freshman pinch runner Marissa Monroe to third base, and took second on a fielding error by AU.
Tiger coach Tina Deese then elected to replace Keyes with freshman Holly Currie. Sophomore Katherine Card greeted the reliever with a sacrifice fly into right center to boost the Lady Vols' bulge to 3-0. Senior Angela Brewer earned a free pass to give the hosts runners on the corners but sophomore Mandie Fishback would fly out to close the frame.
The Lady Vols manufactured a run in the fifth, when sophomore Sarah Fekete singled, stole second and then moved around on a pair of wild pitches by Currie. Tennessee's total of six hits resulted from six individuals. Keyes (16-8) allowed four hits and three runs with two strikeouts and a walk.