After a weekend where the Lady Vols allowed only one run in five games, one would think that things couldn’t get much better.
Think again.
No. 9 Tennessee dispatched three ranked opponents at the Louisville Slugger/UNLV Desert Classic in Las Vegas, running its record to a perfect 8-0 — the best start in school history.
“Karen and I could not be more proud of our team,” said Lady Vol coach Ralph Weekly, who shares the softball coaching duties with his wife, Karen. “We faced three top-20 teams in 24 hours and played really well in every game.”
Sunday’s 2-1 win over No. 8 Washington was the closest game of the season so far for Tennessee. Sophomore Monica Abbott (5-0) saw her 35-inning scoreless streak come to an end, but struck out 18 Huskies in the win.
“Monica Abbott was sensational today,” Weekly said. “Anytime you strike out 18 Washington batters your stuff is really working.”
While Abbott was mowing down the Huskies, Tennessee struggled to get baserunners home. The Lady Vols left runners on in the first, second and fourth innings.
Washington scratched out a run in the bottom of the fourth on an Abbott wild pitch after the Huskies loaded the bases with a single, a walk and a hit batter. It was only the second run Tennessee has allowed all season.
But second baseman Katherine Card delivered the biggest blow of the game with a two-run home run to right-center field in the top of the sixth, giving the Lady Vols a 2-1 lead.
For Card, it was her third home run in three games over the weekend.
“Katherine Card had to be the key to our offense with a home run in each game, all in critical situations,” Weekly said. “Washington was a very good team, and it’s always good for your program to compete with their tradition.”
Tennessee 5, No. 22 Nebraska 0: The Lady Vols slammed four home runs, including back-to-back-to-back round trippers in the top of the second inning for a win over the Cornhuskers on Saturday.
Abbott, freshman catcher Shannon Doepking and sophomore shortstop Lindsay Schutzler all took Nebraska’s Ashley DeBuhr deep to give Tennessee a 4-0 lead.
Card went deep for the second time in as many games in the third inning with a solo shot to left center, giving UT a 5-0 lead.
Abbott mowed down the Huskers, allowing only three hits and striking out seven.
“This is a very good win for our program,” Weekly said. “Nebraska’s been a perennial Top 25 team for many years now.”
Tennessee 4, No. 15 Baylor 0: Freshman pitcher Megan Rhodes (2-0) allowed three hits in six innings and the Lady Vols got an RBI single from junior third baseman Kristi Durant and a three-run home run from Katherine Card during a decisive sixth inning to down Baylor.
Rhodes picked up her second victory in as many outings, striking out seven in six innings of work.
“We are thrilled for Megan Rhodes,” Weekly said. “She threw great today against a very good Baylor team.”
Second baseman Ashley Cline led off the decisive sixth inning with a double to left field, and Schutzler singled up the middle to put runners at the corners. After pinch-runner India Chiles was thrown out at the plate on a fielder’s choice, Durant laced an RBI single to give UT a 1-0 lead.
Card then came to the plate and pounded a three-run home run, her first of three on the weekend, for a 4-0 advantage.
Tennessee’s first two games against Texas State and Michigan were rained out.
The Lady Vols return to action Friday against Illinois-Chicago and Charleston Southern at the Georgia Southern Tournament in Statesboro, Ga.