The Tennessee Lady Vols Softball team seems to be having a season that matches seasons of the past.
They’re ranked in the top 15 and hold a 32-6 record.
They opened the season on the road, as the Weekly’s wanted, to see how their players looked away from home.
They beat the now third-ranked Oregon Ducks in the Mary Nutter Classic, 1-0.
They came home for their first SEC series with Missouri and swept the Tigers then took a Spring Break trip to Honolulu for the Rainbow Classic, another tournament they dominated. They were 30-1 and with Knoxville buzzing, they took to the road for a series with South Carolina.
Then the lights went out, or maybe just the bulb burned out. Whatever it is, the feeling when I walked into Sherri Parker Lee last Monday for the series finale with Georgia was different.
It was a lot different from when they were 30-1 and obliterating teams. So why’s the feeling different? Well that’s why I wrote this article, to figure out exactly that or at least give my opinion(s).
The first place to start is the mental aspect. Anyone that’s played, watched, or knows the slightest thing about baseball and softball knows that they are probably two of the most mental sports there are.
It can take as little as one at bat or one inning in the field to rattle a person’s confidence. I go back and think about the South Carolina series as the series that really blew out candle.
If you look at Tennessee’s stat line from game one, seven runs on 13 hits, that’s a winning stat line. Caylan Arnold despite giving up seven runs, hung in there as long as she could go and that’s all you can ask for out of your starting pitcher. If she can keep you in the game into the late innings.
Tennessee ended up losing game two, again by a run in a game where Matty Moss and Caylan Arnold pitched well enough to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the 7th.
Then South Carolina just got hot and plated three runs to take the series. When you lose back-to-back games by one run, you’re worn down and your confidence gets so low you get run ruled in five innings in game three.
But if it isn’t the mental things, then what is it?
Next place to go to is the performance at the plate.
Tennessee has always been a team to put up reasonably good numbers at the plate in the past and this year has been no exception. Tennessee is hitting a modest .335 with the big three (Leach, Holcomb, and Gregg) hitting over .400. But there’s something else there it seems. In the three-game series with Georgia, the Lady Vols plated just two runs on 11 hits. Even when hosting 3-32 Tennessee State this past week, there was no offensive explosion with just three runs of four hits.
Looking at the infield, for a team that doesn’t commit too many errors, Tennessee has 12 errors going back to the final game of the USC series.
So if all of these aren’t the issue, the last possible element is how much of a grind the season can be. Karen Weekly said it herself after the Georgia game this past Monday, plus it’s no secret how good the SEC is. Tennessee isn’t playing Cleveland State and the level of talent they saw early in the year, that’s for sure.
Every team in the conference is right there as 12 SEC teams are ranked in the USA Today’s Top 25 poll for softball. Coach Weekly has said she’s seen teams have a bad run in the regular season and make runs all the way to Oklahoma City. So it really could be a handful of things or it could just be that a bulb needs changing. The good news is Tennessee has two of the greatest coaches ever to figure out how to fix it.