The Lady Volunteer softball team continued its undefeated start to the season, going 5-0 this weekend in Tampa, Fla., at the USF Tournament to push the squad's season record to 9-0.
In their doubleheader to kick off the tournament on Friday the Lady Vols were fueled by back-to-back shutout pitching performances from their top two pitchers, Ellen Renfroe and Erin Gabriel.
Renfroe took to the mound against the Pittsburgh Panthers to kick off the tourney and nearly delivered a no-hitter, as the Panthers failed to pick up their first hit until the seventh inning when Tori Nirschi reached first on a ball that deflected off Renfroe's leg. The Clarksville, Tenn., native finished with a two-hitter, striking out 12, as Tennessee beat the Panthers, 5-0.
Gabriel followed up Renfroe's performance with a gem of her own.
The sophomore pitched the best game of her UT career, striking out 11 while throwing her own two-hitter in five innings as the Lady Vols strolled to beat Binghamton, 10-0, in a run rule-shortened game.
"You certainly like to see those zeroes because if the other team doesn't score, they can't win," said co-head coach Karen Weekly following Tennessee's victory over Binghamton in a university release. "I feel really confident in our pitching staff, and I know if we can keep them off the board, eventually our offense is going to come around."
Saturday, however, proved to be a little more difficult for the Lady Vols.
Tennessee started the day off with a matchup against the USF Bulls and escaped with a close 3-2 victory.
With the Lady Vols down 2-1 in the top of the third, senior shortstop Madison Shipman crushed a two-run home run over the left field wall to put Tennessee up for good.
UT was able to hold that one-run lead due to the relief efforts of sophomore Rainey Gaffin, who made her second relief appearance of the year.
Gaffin delivered four shutout innings, striking out eight, en route to her second win of the season.
The second game in Saturday's doubleheader came down to the last inning, where an eight-run explosion in the top of the seventh gave the Lady Vols a 10-0 victory over Illinois.
Freshman Annie Aldrete proved to be the driving force behind the offensive outburst, driving in all four of her RBIs in the seventh, including a two-run home run, the first of her career.
Renfroe also continued her dominance in the contest, fanning 12 over seven scoreless innings, allowing five hits, while picking up her fourth win of the season.
In her four appearances, the senior starting pitcher has yet to allow an earned run this season.
With four opponents down, Wright State was the only thing standing in between UT and an undefeated weekend.
The Lady Vols raked in double-digit runs for the third time in the tournament as they cruised to a 10-2 win over the Raiders in five innings.
Junior Hannah Akamine went 2-for-3 with three RBIs, including a two-run home run, in her first career start at third base, while Aldrete finished with her second consecutive perfect day at the plate, going 3-for-3 with two doubles and two RBIs.
Overall, UT hit .380 for the weekend and Tennessee pitchers combined for a 0.90 ERA in the tournament.
The victory over Wright State also marks only the fifth time Tennessee has started 9-0.
"We planned to use these first nine games to look at our young pitching staff, evaluate our freshman and evaluate all the players in game situations," co-head coach Ralph Weekly said in the release. "I liked the way both Erin Gabriel and Rainey Gaffin pitched - it really gives us depth there. It was equally nice that we only had to pitch Ellen Renfroe in four games and Cheyanne Tarango, who is our full-time first baseman, once. Karen and I were also pleased with the way all of our freshmen performed in various game situations. They logged a lot of innings and we played as many as five at a time.
"Most importantly, these nine games told us where we are as a softball team before we start the second part of our non-conference season. We were especially happy with the effort, attitude and chemistry. We have lot of work to do and are anxious to get home, look at film and begin the process of improving."