The team that does not allow any points by their opponent will likely win the game, and that's exactly what the Lady Vols softball team has done so far this season.
Tennessee has achieved a 22-2 record on the year, and in 12 of those 24 games, the team has not allowed a single opposing player to cross the plate.The Lady Vols have only allowed 30 runs all season, leading to an average of a little more than one run per game.
"Our pitching has been outstanding," co-head coach Karen Weekly said at Wednesday's media availability. "The way we haven't been scoring a ton of runs, we certainly needed that and that has been sort of the trademark for us."
Senior Ellen Renfroe has led the charge for the Tennessee pitching staff, throwing 86.1 innings while giving up only six earned runs on the year. She is also responsible for seven of the team's 12 shutouts of the season.
"Really I'm just trying to focus on the process," Renfroe said. "I'm not really paying attention to who we're facing. It doesn't matter if we're facing a higher ranked team, or a team that's not ranked then, I'm still focusing on what I need to do to help the team win."
But the Lady Vols roster is deep, and sophomores Rainey Gaffin and Erin Gabriel have been key to the success of this Tennessee's pitching staff. Gaffin threw a no-hitter in her first career start against Wright State and has given up only three earned runs in her 27 innings pitched.
Gabriel has gotten off to a solid start as well, throwing a complete game shutout in her last start against Holy Cross. She has finally found a groove after sitting out all of last season with a hip injury.
"We're pretty deep pitching," Weekly said. "Rainey coming along like she has is fantastic, and I still foresee really good things to come out of Erin Gabriel."
Silencing the slump
After struggling to hit the ball last weekend in the Tennessee Tournament, the Lady Vols caught fire Tuesday night against visiting Western Carolina.
Tennessee scored only 13 runs in five games last weekend but responded by putting 15 on the board against the Catamounts, a game that only went five innings due to a run rule.
"It was definitely good to have a game like we had against Western Carolina," Weekly said. "We had been struggling to put runs on the board and to really explode."
The coaching staff decided to make a few adjustments to the lineup after UT's offensive struggles in the tournament, opting to start Gaffin and freshman Shaliyah Geathers, hoping that going to a smaller lineup would help get the bats going.
"(We) made a few changed in the bottom of the lineup," Weekly said, "and we kind of got back to doing things the way that Tennessee softball has always run its offensive game."
Tennessee has thrown several of its freshman into the lineup early to see what they are capable of; and it has yielded positive results for the Lady Vols thus far.
Freshman Annie Aldrete hit a grand slam in Tuesday's game, and freshmen Megan Geer and Taylor Koenig have been regulars in Tennessee's starting lineup.
The Lady Vols have gotten a total of 57 RBI from their freshman, many of which have come in clutch situations.
"We just really keep on encouraging them," Renfroe said. "Just keeping their confidence level high. I think that will be the best thing for them is to just stay positive."