Despite missing two of their All-American players due to injury, the No. 9 Tennessee Lady Vols softball team didn’t seem phased as they opened regular season play with a bang, posting a 5-1 record in the Kajikawa Classic held in Tempe, Ariz. over the past weekend.
    
In the classic, the Lady Vols outscored their opponents 31-24 in six games.
    
The biggest win for 11th-year co-head coach Ralph Weekly and his team in the classic, which featured three top-10 teams, came on Saturday night when the Lady Vols shut out their head coach’s alma mater, defending national champion and No. 1 Arizona State, 3-0.
    
The victory marked the second straight season UT has taken down the country’s top-ranked team.
   
 The other top storylines of the tournament for the Big Orange were the dominating pitching performances by sophomore Ellen Renfroe (5-0) and the timely hitting and defense of many Lady Vols. The Lady Vols played without their leadoff hitter, third baseman Raven Chavanne, and returning junior outfielder and RBI leader from last season, Kat Dotson, only played in one game after re-aggravating a right knee injury.
    
In the season opener on Thursday night, Tennessee shut out USCB 7-0, as Renfroe tossed a complete game, one-hit shutout and struck out 11, while Lady Vols sophomore shortstop Madison Shipman and junior second baseman Lauren Gibson each went 2-for-2 on the night and connected on solo home runs. Shipman drove in a game-high two runs.
    
“(Co-head coach) Karen (Weekly) and I were very pleased with the effort today by our whole team,” Ralph Weekly said. “USCB gave us a lot of problems last year in our 2-0 victory. (Guacho starter) Andriana Collins is a tough pitcher, but we made some adjustments and managed to score some runs. We struggled at the top of our order with Raven out this weekend with an injury and Kat Dotson not at full speed.”
   
 The Lady Vols suffered their first loss of the season in their first of two-game set on Friday, as they lost 13-5 to No. 3 California. Cal’s Valerie Arioto did the damage, hitting two home runs and driving in four runs.
    
However, the loss seemed to spark momentum in the Lady Vols as they went on to win four straight games that were decided by three runs or less (Texas Tech 1-0, San Diego State 6-5, Arizona State 3-0, Western Michigan 9-6).
    
Renfroe continued her dominance from the pitching mound as she posted her second and third complete-game shutouts of the year against Texas Tech, a game in which she struck out 14, and No. 1 Arizona State.
    
While she kept the country’s top-ranked team’s bats cold on Saturday night, Renfroe was given room to work with early on as the Lady Vols tagged the Lady Sun Devils for two runs in the top of the first inning on Madison Shipman’s two-run double.
   
 In the bottom of the fourth inning, Lady Vols defensive sub Holly Baker took away what appeared to be a home run off the bat of Junior National Team member Amber Freeman, keeping the Lady Vols’ lead at 2-0.
   
 Renfroe avoided trouble in the bottom half of the sixth inning. After letting the leadoff batter on base for the second straight inning, the sophomore pitcher got the best of Freeman again, as she hit a ground ball to Shipman at short who flipped the ball to Gibson at second and then threw on to first for the 6-4-3 double play to end any sort of threat from the Lady Sun Devils.
    
Gibson extended the lead with a solo home run in the top of the seventh to put the Lady Vols up 3-0, and Renfroe struck out two of three in the final frame to defeat the Lady Sun Devils.
    
Renfroe’s seven-hit shutout marked her fourth consecutive game without giving up a run to start the season, and brought her consecutive scoreless innings pitched streak up to 24.
    
“Our team played great tonight against a very strong Arizona State team with All-American Dallas Escobedo in the circle,” Weekly said. “I was especially pleased with the players who stepped into roles normally covered by Raven Chavanne and Kat Dotson. This was a great atmosphere tonight in front of over 1,300 fans. Our team responded well to what adversity the crowd provided, especially the defense, which turned a 6-4-3 double play and provided two incredible catches in the outfield.”
   
 Renfroe’s streak would come to an end on Sunday afternoon against Western Michigan in a 9-6 winning effort.
    
Her consecutive scoreless innings pitched streak was halted at 27 in the top of the fourth inning against Western Michigan when a Meredith Whitney single plated the Lady Broncos’ first run of the game, which was an unearned run due to a throwing error by the Lady Vols. However, UT spotted four more runs to the Lady Broncos in the fourth inning, with Diana Patterson’s three-run home run doing the damage.
   
 The two teams battled back and forth, and heading into the bottom half of the sixth inning the score was tied at 6-6. That quickly changed as Lady Vols sophomore outfielder Melissa Davin spoiled the Lady Broncos’ chances of winning by hitting her second three-run home run of the game. Davin not only drove in a game-high six runs but scored three as well. Gibson hit her team-high third home run of the season in the bottom of the first inning.
    
Renfroe captured her fifth win of the season in going the distance while allowing six hits, six runs (five earned), three walks and striking out 12 batters. It was the 10th time in her career she has struck out 10 or more in a game.
   
 In the six games of the tournament the Lady Vols hit .291 as a team and piled together 46 hits and eight home runs. Davin leads the team in batting average (.417) while Shipman comes in second with (.381) and leads the team in RBI’s with seven.
   
 The Lady Vols’ (5-1) next action will be in the Time Warner Invitational in Austin, Texas from Feb. 17-19.