Lady Vols show EKU no love in Valentine’s Day opener

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Tennessee Athletics

Photo: Tennessee Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Day one of the 2021 season for No. RV/23/24 Tennessee softball is finally in the books and the Lady Vols made the program’s first-ever home season opener a positive note.

A doubleheader day against Eastern Kentucky on Sunday at Sherri Parker Lee decisively favored the Orange and White as they opened with a quick 10-0, five-inning victory before closing things out in a 3-2 comeback win.

UT was originally scheduled to play a five-game, Friday-Sunday slate at the Kickin’ Chicken Classic in Conway, S.C., but never saw the field at St. John Stadium due to continuous rainfall that eventually led to the tournament’s cancellation.

While heading back from Conway, Tennessee’s coaching staff and administrators were able to confirm Sunday’s outings with the Colonels on Saturday afternoon and the Lady Vols took the field at SPL 342 days after their final game of the abridged 2020 season.

Game 1 saw the return of junior ace Ashley Rogers who went the distance as the Lady Vols dominated the Colonels and clipped their 18-game win streak, which was the longest active streak in the nation.

Rogers returned to the circle for the first time in 631 days after missing all of the 2020 season. She was temporarily sidelined by an injury, but was due to return the weekend the season was postponed and ultimately canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Athens, Tenn., native came back in form and fanned 13, matching her career high. Rogers retired eight of EKU’s first nine batters and pitched a perfect game through three innings, giving up two walks in the top of the fourth and one hit in the fifth.

Offensively, the Lady Vols let their bats talk and after so much quiet time, they spoke loudly. Four different players went yard for UT, which ties for seventh in program history for home runs in a game and marks the 16th occasion the feat was accomplished. Additionally, eight different players scored runs in the first game of the day.

Ally Shipman batted 1.000 (3-for-3) and opened scoring for UT with a long shot to left center in the top of the second, before Josie Willingham made her way around the bases after some small ball.

The Lady Vols took off in the following inning, collecting eight runs in the bottom of the third. Kiki Milloy (2-for-3) found the plate twice after leading off the frame with a single, stealing second and coming home off of the bat of Shipman.

Ahead 3-0, senior first baseman Ashley Morgan (1-for-2) belted a no-doubter right through center field to bring in Chelsea Seggern (0-for-2) and Shipman and give the Orange and White a six-run advantage. Moments later newcomer and senior Ivy Davis (1-for-1) knocked a long shot through center field with one out and Cailin Hannon (0-for-2) at first base.

Milloy made her way back to the plate and this time went yard to bring in Kaitlin Parsons from third and keep the game out of reach. The opening victory marks the 11th consecutive season UT has started a season in the win column.

UT 3, EKU 2 (Game 2)

The Colonels struck quickly in the second game of the day recording a two-run homer in the opening half to put the Lady Vols on their heels and move ahead 2-0.

UT was able to cut the lead in half in their first offensive outing with an RBI single from Seggern (2-for-4) that brought in leadoff hitter Amanda Ayala (1-for-3). Ayala recorded her lone hit of the day with a big double to get some early momentum.

However, the Lady Vols were not able to get much going despite outhitting the Colonels 7-2. UT went scoreless until the bottom of the fifth when Shipman (1-for-4) came through again with a big at-bat, going yard for the second time of the day to knot things 2-2.

A single from Hannon (2-for-3) and a couple of walks jammed the bags with Lady Vols with two outs. Freshman Rylie West stepped in to pinch hit for Parsons and was tagged at the base to get the RBI and bring in KK McCrary (0-for-2) from the hot corner for the go-ahead run and the 3-2 win.

Freshman Bailey McCachren got her first start in the circle and picked up the win. She gave up a pair of hits, runs and walks in 5.0 innings of work and retired three batters.

Rogers picked up the save after coming in to start the sixth inning and struck out five batters to clinch the day.

Fun fact: The Valentine’s Day start is the latest the Lady Vols have opened a season since 1999 when they began the year on Feb. 19 against Miami (OH) in Tampa, Fla.

Next up: Tennessee hosts a pair of double headers on Saturday and Sunday at Sherri Parker Lee. The Lady Vols host SEMO on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET, followed by Miami (OH) at 3 p.m. The matchups flip on Sunday with Miami (OH) at 12:30 p.m., followed by SEMO at 3 p.m.

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