Vols Post Comeback for the Ages in Win Over USC Upstate

UT Softball / Credit: UT Athletics

Vols Post Comeback for the Ages in Win Over USC Upstate

UT Softball / Credit: UT Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — No. 8 Tennessee rallied for an unbelievable comeback win, scoring seven runs with two outs in the seventh inning to defeat No. 25 USC Upstate, 7-3, in Saturday’s NCAA Regional at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium.

The Spartans’ pitching duo of Lexi Shubert and Holly McKinnon held the Volunteers without a hit for 6.2 innings before Haley Bearden broke up the no-hitter with a clutch, pinch-hit single to drive in Megan Geer and Scarlet McSwain, who both reached on walks earlier in the inning. The hit cut the Upstate lead to 3-2 before Aubrey Leach launched a three-run homer to center field to send the crowd into a frenzy and give UT its first lead of the afternoon. It was just the second career home run for the sophomore leadoff hitter, who is primarily a slapper.

The Vols (46-10) continued to pour it on with a Meghan Gregg two-run blast into the outfield bleachers to extend the lead to 7-3. The homer was Gregg’s 13th of the year, tying a career high, and also increased her RBI total to 75, putting her in sole possession of third place on Tennessee’s single-season RBI list.

Freshman pitcher Caylan Arnold was solid in her NCAA Tournament debut, allowing just one earned run and three hits in six innings of work. The Maryville, Tenn., native improved to 20-8 on the year with the win and defeated a ranked opponent for the ninth time this season in the process.

UT found themselves in an early hole after committing two errors and giving up a pair of runs in the bottom of the first inning. The Vols came out on the wrong side of a play at the plate after Upstate’s Ansley Gilstrap was ruled safe at home after being caught in a rundown. Replay showed that she never touched the plate but the call was upheld. Ryan Rector drove in another run with a sacrifice fly to give the Spartans a 2-0 lead after one inning of play.

Following the rocky start, Arnold settled in to retire the next 14 batters she faced before allowing two hits and a run in the run in the bottom of the sixth.

Shubert carried a perfect game into the sixth inning before walking the bases loaded with one out. McKinnon came on in relief to strike out pinch hitter Taylor Rowland and get Gregg to ground out to keep the no-hitter intact and end the threat.

Megan Obier led the USC Upstate (45-12) attack with a hit, a run and an RBI while Rector also drove in a run for the Spartans in the loss. Upstate will take on the winner of today’s second game between Ohio State and Longwood in an elimination game later this evening at 5 p.m.

UP NEXT: Tennessee advances to tomorrow’s regional final and will face the winner of tonight’s elimination game at noon on Sunday. The Vols need just one win to advance to the NCAA Super Regionals next week.

ONE FOR THE AGES: Tennessee entered the seventh inning of Saturday’sincredible comeback win with no hits and a three-run deficit. It was the Vols’ first victory this season when trailing entering the seventh inning (previously 0-7). The Big Orange recorded all four of their hits and all seven runs with two outs in the inning. UT had just three runners reach base entering the seventh, all via walks in the sixth inning.

LEACH LAUNCHES GAME WINNER: Sophomore second baseman Aubrey Leach came up with the biggest hit of her career, hammering a 3-2 pitch over the center-field wall to put Tennessee ahead 5-3 in the seventh. The Vols were down to their final strike before the Texas native hit her second home run of the season, which proved to be the game winner.


Tennessee vs. USC Upstate

SCORE: Tennessee 7, USC Upstate 3

Tennessee Co-Head Coach Karen Weekly

(Opening statement)

“That was a heck of a game, probably the greatest comeback in the history of Tennessee softball. I certainly don’t remember a game quite like that where everything appeared to be lost from the outside at least going into the seventh inning. To put up seven runs in the seventh inning like we did, to be down two strikes to our last out, the team kept believing. We kept saying, ‘We’re going to win this game; we’re going to win this game, but we’re not going to win it on emotion. It’s got to be done playing smarter, not harder.’ I think we just got better and better as the game went along, and fortunately, we were good enough before we made our last out. Our kids just came up with some incredibly, incredibly big at-bats. I can’t say enough about Caylan Arnold’s performance because that was a rough first inning but not her fault. To maintain composure like she did and keep the score as low as she did to give us a chance. That’s a very good team. They play really sound softball. Sound softball starts with good pitching and good defense. USC Upstate is very good in the circle and on defense. You saw them make some incredibly good plays today. Even early in the game, we hit some good balls, but they made some really good plays.”

(On pinch hitting Haley Bearden for CJ McClain)

“CJ does a lot of things for us, but in that situation, we needed possibly a ball over the fence — which Haley can provide — or a ball in the gap to score a couple of runs. Haley is a strong girl, and she has a good solid bat. I’ll tell you something that happened there. Taylor Rowland had a pinch-hit situation but didn’t have a good at-bat because she didn’t have a good plan. The good thing that happened was I got on Taylor for not having a good approach, but what Taylor did as soon as Haley’s number was called, I turned and saw Taylor grabbed Haley. She had both hands on her shoulders, telling Haley, ‘This is what you need to do. This is what you need to look for, and basically learn from my at-bat.’ That was a teammate not feeling sorry for herself because she didn’t do her job but helping a teammate learn from her mistake.”

(On Caylan Arnold keeping energy up after being down early)

“I kept looking up at the board. The way we were struggling at the plate, it felt like we were down by more than we were. I kept seeing there was one hit on the board; she was throwing a gem. She really was. After the first inning, we said, ‘Hey, this is the first inning. Let’s not panic and try to get everything back in one swing. Everyone just do your job. We’ll score runs.’ That was harder to do than we thought. I think what was happening, we were in a hurry to make outs. After the fifth inning, I keep this quality at-bat chart. There weren’t many marks on there because I chart every pitch. We weren’t going deep into counts. We had one six-pitch at-bat at the end of the fifth inning. Every other at-bat was two pitches, three pitches, four pitches. We weren’t making her throw enough pitches. We were swinging at pitches out of the zone really early. We were in a hurry to makes outs. One of our goals is to get our best pitch. It’s not about getting a hit. We got it confused. We were trying to get hits and trying too hard to force the action instead of getting your best pitch and stick to the process. If you can get yourself locked into the process and playing smarter, instead of trying to play harder, good things will happen, but it took us an awful long time to do that. Sixth inning, we were more patient and selfish about getting a good pitch. We loaded the bases. We almost pushed it through. What the key was is we didn’t get it done in the sixth inning, there was a lot of talk that the momentum was on our side. We had momentum. Let’s get out there, hold them and start over again.”

Tennessee Sophomore Catcher Haley Bearden

(On coming in to pinch hit with bases loaded and two outs in the top of the 7th)
“I was focused on the process and getting my pitch. I didn’t want to swing at anything bad. I wanted to get my pitch. I knew the top of the lineup was coming up, so I wanted to get on base for them. Whenever I came through, I was really excited. I felt like I was going to come through the whole time. I had a lot of confidence in myself.”

(On what the players were telling her before the at-bat)

“Taylor Rowland was the first person to face that pitcher, and she told me that if I get two strikes just to sit slow and adjust fast. I went up  and the pitcher threw it right where I like to hit it.”

Tennessee Sophomore Infielder Aubrey Leach

(On her go-ahead home run)
“Those are the kinds of moments we live for. You want to be in that situation. We had a plan, and my job was to stick to the plan and put a good swing on the pitch I needed to hit.”

(On her feelings after the home run)

“It was a complete team effort. There is no doubt that we needed everyone. We had people coming off the bench to hit and pinch run. It was a complete team effort, and there is no way I can take all the credit for that.”

-UT Athletics


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