Lady Vols earn trip to Women's College World Series

Lady Vols earn trip to Women's College World Series

May 23rd, 2015 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennessee's Rainey Gaffin (42) drives a base hit up the middle against Utah during their game in Knoxville in this May 17, 2015, file photo. (AP Photo/The Daily Times, Scott Keller) MANDATORY Credit

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

 

KNOXVILLE -- Three hits and two runs were all Rainey Gaffin needed.

And now the Tennessee Lady Volunteers are headed back to college softball's biggest stage.

After Florida State won Friday's first game to force a decisive matchup in the best-of-three Super Regional, Gaffin allowed just one run on five hits in a complete game as Tennessee edged the Seminoles 2-1 to clinch the program's seventh trip to the Women's College World Series in the last 11 years.

The Lady Vols will make the trip to Oklahoma City for the third time in four seasons after falling short last year.

"It's the goal," sophomore second baseman Megan Geer said. "That's what everybody wants, and everybody fights to get there. I think especially with this team, coming from where we started and our low expectation from everybody else, the hard work and dedication and the heart of the team has been great.

"It's a huge accomplishment, and I think it shows a lot for who we are."

The Lady Vols (47-15) began the season ranked on the edge of the top 15, but they were picked to finish eighth in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference.

Co-head coach Ralph Weekly didn't hesitate, though, to call this team an overachieving one.

"For sure. No question," said Weekly, who coaches alongside his wife, Karen. "Any team in any sport that overachieves, it's because of extra work, and they work hard. They are a hard-working team, and they don't accept mediocrity."

Weekly called this WCWS-bound team his most inexperienced one, and Tennessee went through the season without a dominant ace like he's had in the past with Monica Abbott and Ivy and Ellen Renfroe.

"It's always special, and this team is more special in many, many ways," he said. "Our method of Karen and I's is to always be very, very positive and talk about what we're going to do and how we're going to do it and everything. Sometimes we know that that's stretching it a little bit. These kids have done everything we've asked them to do."

The Seminoles forced the decisive game after Jessica Warren homered twice -- including a two-run shot in the first inning -- in a 6-1 second-game win. With Florida State (49-14) set to start pitcher Lacey Waldrop, the 2014 USA Softball national player of the year, for the third game, Tennessee knew offense would be difficult to find.

Thus it was up to Gaffin, starting just her 12th game of the season, to keep the Seminoles quiet.

"I tried to pitch the same way I have been," said the junior from Colorado. "Before the game I told the girls, I said, 'I've got your back, I will give you my all right now and you guys in return give me your all.' I just kind of went with that mindset just to attack."

Megan Geer gave the Lady Vols a first-inning lead with an RBI double to right-center field, and they doubled their lead in the fourth without a hit.

Cheyenne Tarango drew a leadoff walk and gave way to pinch-runner C.J. McClain, who took second on a passed ball and stole third.

Former East Hamilton High School standout Shaliyah Geathers then hit a ground ball to second baseman Ellie Cooper, whose throw home was too high and allowed McClain, who was retreating back to third, to score easily.

The Lady Vols couldn't score after loading the bases with one out in that inning, though.

Tennessee left seven runners on base and finished the third game 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, but Gaffin kept the Lady Vols in control, even if things got nervy a couple of times.

Morgan Klaevemann singled in a run for the Seminoles in the fifth but was stranded on second. She was also stranded at third in the first. Florida State was 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

Alex Kossof singled after Gaffin struck out the first two batters in the seventh, but Gaffin induced Klaevemann into a harmless groundout to Geer at second.

"Coming here, I wanted a shot for a national championship," Gaffin said. "I knew that day in and day out, we would have that shot. We've just got to compete, just like we did tonight."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.


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