By: Gabriel Daniel
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.- No. 4 Tennessee clinched its second-ever regular season SEC championship Saturday in a 4-2 win over South Carolina at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium.
It has been a special season for the Lady Vols (41-7, 19-4 SEC) who last won an SEC Championship in 2007 under the leadership of co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly. Throughout the year the Lady Vols have been highly ranked and have used a combination of superb pitching and timely hitting to lead them to the best record in the SEC.
Tennessee again rallied behind the home run prowess of Senior Kiki Milloy to help get them the win over the Gamecocks (33-19, 8-15 SEC). Milloy blasted a solo home run into left field in the Lady Vols first at-bat that gave Tennessee a 1-0 lead.
“We needed to set a tone with the first at-bat and really just come out swinging, and she did that. Even before she hit that home run she was getting her hacks in she was getting her timing. And you knew if she just got a little bit more on top of the ball she would send one far,” said Weekly.
Milloy has had a truly special season for the Lady Vols. With her home run, Milloy broke the Tennessee single-season home run record with 20. In addition, Milloy leads the team in batting average, hits, and runs.
“I just went in there thinking get after it, attack. I think in our past couple of games we have gone away from attacking every single pitch,” said Milloy. “It kind of felt like every other time, not going to lie. I try not to think about it too much, the home run is a bonus to doing everything right in the box.”
The Lady Vols’ offense slowed down after the first-inning home run. Tennessee only got one hit in the next five innings. South Carolina responded with runs in the third and fourth innings. After a costly base running error in the fourth prevented the Lady Vols from scoring, Tennessee was running out of time to come back.
It was Junior Zaida Puni who won the game for Tennessee. The Lady Vols were down two in the bottom of the fifth with two outs. After Kiki Milloy was internationally walked, Puni was up with runners on first and second. With the count full, Puni crushed a ball to left field for her eighth home run of the season, and that gave Tennessee a two-run lead.
Puni has been one of the most consistent bats for Tennessee this season with a .361 batting average. Puni has also been one of the Lady Vols’ best power hitters currently sitting at third on the team in home runs and tied for second in doubles.
“She’s such an amazing player, but more important than that an amazing person,” said Weekly. “You just know that Zadia is going to give us a great at-bat, she gave as a game changer.”
Freshman pitcher Karlyn Pickens also had a good game for the Lady Vols. Pickens had six strikeouts and only allowed one walk in her five innings in the circle. Pickens also allowed four hits against the 19 batters she faced.
The Lady Vols will finish the series and the regular season Sunday at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium with the first pitch set for 1:30 PM E.T.