By Devin Hoke
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The No. 3 Tennessee Lady Vols beat the East Tennessee State Buccaneers 10-2 in six innings on a windy Tuesday night in Sherri Parker Lee Stadium. The out of conference win makes Tennessee 27-2 and drops ETSU to 7-22 on the year.
Tennessee starting pitcher was Payton Gottshall, who started game three against Alabama on Sunday but was pulled shortly into the second inning, and Brianna Bailey, the starting pitcher for ETSU, both pitchers started out strong through the first two innings. However, in the third frame, Bailey struggled to put Tennessee away. With two outs and two runners on base, McKenna “Boo” Gibson hit the first of two home runs on the night that gave the Lady Vols a lead they would not relinquish.
It would not take long for Gibson to get that second home run as once again with runners on base and two outs, this time in the fourth inning, Gibson hit a grand slam which gave her seven RBIs in the game. Gibson would later hit a double to give herself three hits in the game as well.
“Our leadership is a lot to do with it,” said Gibson confidently when asked what makes this team this year so successful. “We’ve stuck together day in and day out and just worked with each other, y’know picking each other up when we need to, keeping each other accountable with everything and just being one team and playing as a team”.
For Tennessee head Coach Karen Weekly, Gibson’s performance was not surprising.
“Oh yeah she’s clutch,” said Weekly with a smile when asked about Gibson embracing the moment with runners on base. “McKenna has an even keeled mentality, it doesn’t matter to her whether the bases are loaded or nobody is on, she is going to have the same at bat every time.”
East Tennessee did have a response in the fifth inning when their own first baseman, Sara Muir, hit a two-RBI single to score Cameron Young and Kemiah Mitchel. It should be noted that Tennessee made a pitching change after the fourth inning so it was Ryleigh White that gave up those two runs after Gottshall had a very effective four innings.
Tennessee made sure to give other parts of the lineup experience in a game like this. Freshmen Brylee Mesusan and Jackie Kirkpatrick were given opportunities in the lineup as well as sophomore pitcher Nicola Simpson, who finished the game. Mesusan showed the potential she had after hitting a single and then stealing second base however, she could have stolen third base as well due to a wild throw but she was not aware of the missed throw so on field awareness might be something she can work on and improve upon.
Tennessee has looked dominant this year but against Alabama there were times the Lady Vols looked somewhat vulnerable despite taking the series. Tennessee had a rough hitting performance in the 4-2 loss in game two but then bounced back with a higher-scoring 7-5 victory in game three to win that series. Tennessee, and Gottshall, needed this confidence booster heading into College Station to take on the Aggies.
Texas A&M has a new coach this year and the team is starting to buy in as they won their most recent SEC series as well after they beat the Kentucky Wildcats two out of the three games. The Lady Vols and Aggies’ series will begin on Friday with first pitch set for 6:00 P.M. EST.