OKLAHOMA CITY — With one Renfroe sister starting to struggle, Tennessee turned to another to earn a shot at the NCAA softball title.
Lauren Gibson hit a solo home run in the first inning, the Renfroe sisters combined on a five-hitter and the Lady Vols reached the Women’s College World Series finals by beating Texas 2-1 on Sunday night.
“It’s just very surreal. It’s hard to take in right now,” said Ivy Renfroe, who got the start and threw 4 2-3 scoreless innings. “It’s like, ‘We’re really going to be playing in championship series?’
“I’m just so blessed and honored to be playing with all these girls. It’s been a fun ride, and I’m glad to see it keep going.”
While the Lady Vols were playing with a pair of aces, the Longhorns didn’t have the same luxury. NCAA strikeout leader Blaire Luna (31-7) fanned 12 in her second complete game of the day for fourth-seeded Texas (51-10). She struck out 14 in a one-hit shutout of Florida earlier in the day and lost control late after throwing a three-hitter against Tennessee.
She threw 288 pitches on the day, and five of her eight walks came in the final two innings. Tennessee scored its second run in the sixth inning, when Luna hit Cheyanne Tarango with a pitch and issued three walks.
Luna said her forearm was tightening up and she had a blood blister on her pitching hand, but she believed she could have kept going.
“It’s just about fighting and just staying the course. ... My mentality was to really work ahead and spread the zone. That’s kind of what I tried to do. I think that’s why I had so many strikeouts,” Luna said.
“I think it was a struggle and it’s upsetting that we didn’t come through offensively but I’m really proud of our team and the way that we fought this year. Just the fact that we’re at the World Series, that’s something that I wanted to accomplish and we did it.”
No. 7 seed Tennessee (52-10), which knocked out defending champion and SEC rival Alabama in the super regionals, is in the best-of-3 finals for the second time. The Lady Vols were beaten in three games by Arizona in 2007, winning Game 1 before Monica Abbott took a shutout into extra innings in a Game 2 loss.
Pinch-hitter Lindsey Stephens led off the seventh by homering to center field off of Ellen Renfroe, who took over for Ivy Renfroe (22-4) to get out of a jam in the fifth.
Ellen Renfroe came in after her sister hit Stephanie Ceo with a pitch and Ceo advanced to third after a passed ball and an illegal pitch, as Hannah Akamine stepped out of the catcher’s box too early while Ivy Renfroe was intentionally walking Taylor Hoagland. She negated that threat, then kept the Longhorns from scoring after allowing back-to-back singles by Taylor Thom and Kim Bruins to start the sixth.
Ellen Renfroe struck out Mandy Ogle after a failed sacrifice attempt, then got Torie Schmidt to foul out and retired Karina Scott on a grounder. After Stephens’ home run, she retired the next three batters in order to finish off her third save of the season.
“You saw three of the greatest pitchers of our era on the field tonight, and I’m serious about that. Ivy and Ellen are both fantastic ... and Blaire Luna was sensational,” Lady Vols co-head coach Ralph Weekly said.
Gibson hit her team-leading 19th home run of the season into the front row of the left-field bleachers on a 2-0 pitch from Luna with two outs in the first inning. The Lady Vols’ only two other hits against Luna were Madison Shipman’s lined single off of Hoagland’s glove at third base in the fourth and Raven Chavanne’s bunt in the seventh.
But that was enough.
“We all love each other and I think it just gives us another day to continue to play and it’s obviously what we’ve worked for all year,” Ellen Renfroe said. “From the very beginning back in August, our goal was to win a national championship. And this is just another step that we had to take.”