By: Devin Hoke
KNOXVILLE, Tenn – No. 3 Tennessee hosted Kennesaw State for a midweek game on a sunny Tuesday evening where the Lady Vols’ offense stayed hot and took advantage of mistakes from the KSU defense to cruise to a 7-3 win.
The Lady Vols (35-5) recently soared in the rankings after sweeping Kentucky on the road and added Kennesaw State (13-29) to their schedule last week.
KSU immediately showed that they are not a team to be taken lightly as Lady Vols’ starting pitcher Ryleigh White gave up a two run home run in the top of the first inning to Taylor Cates to put the Owls on the board first 2-0. The Lady Vols, however, responded with two runs of their own in the first inning and then a four run second inning.
In the first, Kiki Milloy was able to round the bases due to a long sacrifice from McKenna Gibson and multiple errors committed by the Owls outfield and then Zaida Puni hit a solo home run to tie the game. In the second inning, Mackenzie Donihoo hit a solo home run but then the Owls once again commit multiple fielding errors that Tennessee takes advantage of to get the next three runs. Tennessee has been an aggressive and experienced base running team this season, so these critical mistakes by KSU really cost them.
“I wish I could say I had some magic potion for instilling confidence in you women”, Tennessee head coach Karen Weekly said with a smile after I asked how she gets the players mentally focused for a game like this. “This game is 90% from the neck up, if you are in the right mental frame of mind you are going to give yourself a chance for success.”
Tennessee’s mental preparation seemed to help the bats get hot and the runners to take advantage of the Owls’ mistakes after falling behind 2-0.
White pitched a full five innings and during that time McKenna Gibson hit a solo home run to pad the lead. Up 7-2, Karen Weekly pulled White to put in Nicola Simpson, who struggled as she allowed the Owls offense to get hot again. Kennesaw State loaded the bases and walked in a run against Simpson. Cates and Henry each had a hit. Payton Gottshall was brought in to save the day for Tennessee and she shut down Kennesaw State the rest of the way.
Tennessee held on to win the game after Gottshall had three strikeouts to end the game in the top of the seventh inning as part of a three up and three down inning. The game moved very quickly as the matchup only lasted one hour and forty seven minutes.
Tennessee adds another win before they play a big time rival in the Florida Gators for a three game series in Knoxville starting Saturday at 4:00 PM ET. The Florida Gators are ranked 15th in the country and are coming off of a series win against arch rival 12th-ranked Georgia. Georgia did win game three 8-2 after losing the series so Florida will be looking to find more productive offense against the pitching depth Tennessee has.