It may have taken a trip to California, a battle with the top-ranked team in the nation, a bout with the flu and a freak injury, but the Tennessee softball team finally saw its 16-game winning streak come to an end on Saturday.
The No. 5 Lady Vols (16-2) dropped their final two games of the Palm Springs Classic in Cathedral City, Calif., falling to No. 1 California on Saturday, 7-3, and losing on Sunday to Notre Dame, 5-2.
“Sometimes early in the season you need these types of games to progress as a team,” Tennessee co-coach Ralph Weekly said. “Both the players and coaches will learn from these last two games.
In Sunday’s game with the Fighting Irish, starting pitcher Megan Rhodes, still recovering from a bout with the flu, took the loss after allowing four runs on four hits in three innings.
Tennessee was without sophomore Monica Abbott on Sunday, who came down with the flu herself, and leading hitter Sarah Fekete, who was hit in the forehead by foul ball while standing in the on-deck circle in Saturday’s game with California.
After a four-run third inning for the Irish, Lindsay Schutzler nailed a two-run home run in the bottom half to cut the deficit to 4-2. But Tennessee stranded runners in both the fifth and seventh innings and could not cut into the deficit further.
With Abbott’s 21 innings of shutout ball on the weekend, her already-miniscule ERA dropped to 0.09 while her 140 strikeouts is easily tops in the SEC.
No. 1 California 7, Tennessee 3: Rhodes was tagged for seven runs in 4.1 innings of work as the Lady Vols lost their first game of the season.
“We obviously need to keep in mind that we won 16 straight games ... we were due to have a couple of miscues,” Weekly said. “Unfortunately, they occurred against the best team in the country.”
Tennessee managed a three-run third inning to cut into Cal’s lead as Katherine Card had an RBI single, scoring Schutzler, and Shannon Doepking ripped a double to left to score two more runs.
Tennessee 8, No. 23 Long Beach 0: Stacey Jennings blasted her third home run of the season, Schutzler went 3-for-4 with an RBI and Abbott pitched seven innings of shutout ball with 12 strikeouts for an 8-0 win over LBSU.
“We got clutch hitting when we needed it today,” Weekly said. “Stacey Jennings had a super game both at-bat and in the field, and Monica (Abbott) continued her string of shutout victories.”
Jennings’ blast in the top of the seventh — her second grand slam of the season — plated Ashley Cline, Card and Doepking.
Tennessee 1, No. 18 Oregon State 0: Abbott struck out nine in a complete-game one-hitter while Card’s two-out RBI double in the first inning provided all the necessary offense in UT’s 1-0 win over the Beavers.
“That was a classic fastpitch softball game,” Weekly said. “One pitcher was throwing 69 miles per hour and the other was at 68.”
Card and Doepking registered the only multi-hit games for the Lady Vols, going 2-for-3.
Tennessee 14, No. 20 Pacific 0: Abbott fired her second no-hitter of the season and sixth of her career, and Kristi Durant went 3-for-3 with six RBIs as the Lady Vols blasted the 20th-ranked Tigers, 14-0 (5 innings).
The Lady Vols scored in every inning, including a monster seven-run second inning. Durant blasted a grand slam to give UT a 7-0 lead, and freshman Kortney Bell went deep with a three-run shot in the third to make it 12-0.
“(Co-head coach) Karen (Weekly) and I were very proud of the whole team,” Weekly said. “This is a satisfying victory against a team as good as Pacific.”
That was more than enough for Abbott, who struck out seven of the 16 batters she faced. She was only one hit batsman away from a perfect game.
Lady Vol pitchers have now thrown three no-hitters this season. Abbott’s first came against Florida A&M on Feb. 5, and Rhodes held Charleston Southern hitless on Feb. 18.
Tennessee returns to action Wednesday when they travel to Cookeville to take on in-state rival Tennessee Tech. The doubleheader begins at 4 p.m.