By Tucker Harlin
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – No. 5 Tennessee split its first two games of the Tennessee Invitational on Thursday with an 11-0 run rule over Mercer and a 0-1 loss to No. 22 Baylor.
In the first game, Tennessee’s bats did not come to life immediately. Tennessee (30-4, 10-2 SEC) did score one run in the first inning, but it was a Kiki Milloy walk and stolen base along with a pair of sacrifice plays from Lair Beautae and Mackenzie Donihoo that gave Tennessee its early lead.
The second inning was far more explosive than the first for the Lady Vols. The scoring began with Kiki Milloy taking a walk with the bases loaded. Directly after Milloy’s walk, Lair Beautae followed up by hitting an RBI triple to the wall in center field. A few batters later, McKenna Gibson sent Beautae and Mackenzie Donihoo home with an RBI single. In total, Tennessee scored six runs and cycled through its entire batting order in the second inning.
The third inning was a little tamer for the Lady Vols, but they still did quite a bit of damage at the plate. A Katie Taylor RBI double into left field gave Tennessee its first run of the inning. The Lady Vols had runners on second and third with two outs, and Lair Beautae went back to work and demolished a three-run bomb over the wall to put Tennessee up 11-0.
Tennessee pitching duo of Payton Gottshall and Nicola Simpson, supported by the high scoring offense, held Mercer (12-26) in check. The duo combined for the five-inning no-hitter in the Lady Vols’ thrashing of Mercer.
While the Lady Vols’ bats were alive and well during the Mercer game, the same cannot be said about the Baylor game.
The Bear’s center fielder McKenzie Wilson started the game with a lead off double. Wilson would reach third base due to a sacrifice fly, before catcher Sydney Collazos managed to land a ball inches away from the outstretched glove of Kiki Milloy giving Baylor its only run of the game, which would prove to be enough.
The pitchers shined in Tennessee’s contest with Baylor (29-9). For Tennessee, Ashley Rogers pitched all seven innings, giving up three hits, one run, and one walk while striking out eight batters. Rogers followed up the solid performance from her teammates in game one, however, the offense couldn’t overcome Baylor’s Dariana Orme.
Orme pitched all seven innings and gave up just one hit and one walk while striking out five batters in the shutout over the Lady Vols.
“She (Orme) moves the ball around in the zone really well, and she controls the up and the down,” said Tennessee head coach Karen Weekly. “I felt like we took way too many pitches early and got ourselves into two-strike counts without ever taking the bat off the shoulder. It just didn’t ever feel like we were aggressive.”
Over the last few weeks, the Lady Vols have been either all or nothing when it comes to offensive performance. Against Texas A&M, Tennessee only managed to score three runs in the first two games before exploding for nine runs in the series-clinching game three. And for Weekly, this is a challenge that she expects her team to see the rest of the season.
“We have to get more resilient, you can’t just go out there and keep doing the same thing over and over,” Weekly said. “We’ve got to figure out how to not wait until the next day to come out of something like this. This is the kind of pitching we’re going to see in the postseason.”
Tennessee will see both Baylor and Mercer again on Friday, with its first game against Baylor at 12:30 P.M. EST and Mercer at 3 P.M. EST. Although Tennessee made only one real mistake today, it is looking to make adjustments tomorrow for a more consistent outing in the finale of the Tennessee Invitational.