KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The No. 12-seeded Lady Vols used hot bats and a strong relief appearance from Caylan Arnold to down Ohio State, 12-4, in Game 3 of the NCAA Knoxville Regional.
With the win, Tennessee (41-14) advanced to the NCAA Regional final game on Sunday at noon ET. The Orange and White will face the winner of Saturday’s Game 5 featuring Ohio State and North Carolina.
In what turned into a three-hour contest, UT was led by Aubrey Leach (2-for-4), Haley Bearden (2-for-3) and Cailin Hannon (1-for-2) at the plate. The trio combined to score six runs and record six RBI while six other Lady Vols notched hits.
All three of Tennessee’s pitchers saw action in the game with Arnold earning the win. The junior tossed the final 4.2 innings, allowing two runs on four hits while firing five strikeouts. Of her 58 pitches, 43 were strikes.
The Big Orange struck early on Saturday, plating one run in the first inning. Leach led off with a bunt to the pitcher and then stole second base before Bearden hit a single to the left side. With Kaili Phillips at the plate, Leach capitalized on a wild pitch to the backstop to score the first run of the contest.
In the bottom of the frame, Ohio State evened it up and then took a 2-1 lead off the bats of Lilli Piper and Ashley Prange who both hit solo home runs.
Responding in the third, Tennessee jumped back out front on Hannon’s fourth long ball of the year. Chelsea Seggern first reached on an error and advanced to second on a wild pitch before Phillips worked the count for a walk. Two at-bats later and with two outs, Hannon crushed a three-run bomb to the outfield bleachers, giving UT the advantage, 4-2.
In the fifth inning, the Big Orange extended their lead by two runs. Amanda Ayala roped a triple to right field to start the stanza before Hannon walked and proceeded to steal second. With two outs, Gracie Osbron knocked a two-RBI single to left field, making it a 6-2 game.
The Lady Vols added two more runs in the sixth as Leach led off with a bunt single and moved into scoring position on Seggern’s one-bagger to center. In the next at-bat, Bearden roped one to left-center field, driving in Leach. OSU’s center fielder then misplayed the ball, allowing Seggern to come around to score.
Ohio State got two runs back in the bottom of the frame as Emily Clark led off with a single before Prange hit her second homer of the game, trimming UT’s lead to 8-4.
Tennessee went on to add four more insurance runs in the top of the seventh on four hits and an error. Both Leach and Bearden drew bases-loaded walks to bring in two runs before Phillips notched a two-RBI single to make it a 12-4 game.
Arnold and the defense held the Buckeyes scoreless in the bottom of the frame for the 12-4 final.
STRETCH IT OUT: Saturday’s three-hour-plus game marked the longest seven-inning outing for UT since the first game of the 2018 Athens Super Regional on May 25. That contest lasted just over four hours.
CRUSHED IT: Junior Cailin Hannon hit just the fourth home run of her career in Saturday’s game against OSU. Her three RBI in the contest also tied her career high that was last achieved at Mizzou on April 10 of this season.
Tennessee Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly
“Well, to start with it was a very hot day out there with humidity and everything else and we used everybody got into the game except for Katie Weimer, who is a very good player but who was warming up pitchers during the entire time. I thought Ohio State was a very good team. I thought that coming in. We looked at a lot of film on them last night and knew what we had to do to beat them. I know we used all three pitchers which was a plan that we had. We didn’t just plan to change that early though, and we wanted to use Matty (Moss) for transition in between the two. We felt like Caylan (Arnold) would be the best to go against them and she proved that when she came in and did what she did because they’re a very good hitting team.”
On needing to be beaten twice tomorrow:
“Well, it’s a great place to be. It’s what we strive to be and when we qualified for the playoffs we figured we had so many games that we needed to win if we wanted to get to the World Series. We’ve been in this for many years, you know, and it’s always worked out best when we get through the first two days. That’s why this game was so important and we were willing to pull out anything we could to win it. It’s still going to be tough tomorrow though. Every time we’ve gone out and had to be beaten twice, we didn’t always win that first game so we’re going to be as prepared as we can for tomorrow.”
On the team being relaxed:
“They were. You know they have a lot of faith in Ashley (Rogers) because of some of the things that she’s done this year but the other two, they know are really good. And, you know, this is a game like any game where you’re going to get hit in the mouth and you got to get up and go again. When we got down like that, it just really didn’t seem to matter. They kept saying we’re going to come back, we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that. They’ve been that way all year though, you know, so I’m proud of them and we’ll just see how far they can go.”
On her mindset during the game:
“Well, anytime I go in there I always try to have the same mindset which is just to attack the hitters and to throw my best stuff. I think that’s what I did today and, you know, I think we have a great staff and we are used to throwing at least two pitchers during a game because we are all really talented. My mindset going into it was just to hold them until my team can get the runs up on the board which we did, and it was awesome having that offense behind me and that helps me a lot to keep going and keep attacking.”
On being in the winner’s bracket and getting to rest:
“Yeah, it’s great. It’s a great advantage to be able to be in the winner’s bracket and have to be beaten twice. That was definitely what we wanted going into this game and I know so many girls commented on that being the longest game we’ve ever played. It was and it was really hot but we were doing what we could in the dugout to stay hydrated and stay cool. It’s really great going into tomorrow knowing that we’ve got this advantage.”
On her three-run home run:
“I was trying to make an adjustment from the first at-bat. Actually, Ralph called timeout and he told me that I really needed to make an adjustment, so I knew that I was struggling a little bit. Seeing the pitch, I just knew that if I kept battling no matter what pitch it was, she’d bring one that I could hit, and she was a really good pitcher. Basically, I just tried to stay in the zone and just swing hard at anything.”
On the momentum from the home run:
“I think it definitely gave us some momentum which is a big part of the game. Having momentum during the whole game is just really important to keep the team rolling and passing the bat. I was just really happy that I could give that to our team and allow us to get excited and Karen (Weekly) got super excited after it which I think fed off to the all the girls on the team. It just got us rolling, so I was very pleased about that.”
Ohio State Head Coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly
“There was so much happening in that game that it was hard to take it down to one point. I think Tennessee just was relentless on offense and any mistake we made they made us pay, and I think that was the difference in the game.”
On giving up the lead early in the game:
“We went into the game knowing that it would be high scoring, because we know their offense, so we were not surprised that they scored. I think our pitcher was a little disappointed in the execution of her pitches. That is too bad, because she had worked the count really well. The thing about this game is that great players make you pay, and that kid put a great swing on a ball that almost hit her. We did not fold, if you can tell, we are not really that kind of team.”
On the execution of her team:
“I think each at-bat was a little different. With the error, it was the speed of the runner. With the walks, I have a lot of faith in Katya Duvall, and that was a big pressure situation for her. Mechanically, she was just pushing the ball outside of the zone. She had some really good pitches the inning before to get us out of that jam. We got ourselves into it, so she did not have a free base to give. Credit to their batters for taking that ball four because a lot of average hitters would just swing. So, it was good for them that they were that disciplined.”