Texas stands in way of Tennessee ending Women’s College World Series drought

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee's Kiki Milloy will enter this weekend's NCAA tournament super regional against Texas leading the nation with 25 home runs. The best-of-three series between the Lady Vols and Longhorns starts Friday afternoon inside Sherri Parker Lee Stadium.

The Women's College World Series used to be a home away from home for the Tennessee Lady Vols.

Tennessee was among the last eight teams standing in the NCAA softball tournament four times from 2010 to 2015, but 2015 remains the last season in which the Lady Vols reached Oklahoma City. They are looking to remedy that this weekend in Sherri Parker Lee Stadium when Texas arrives for a UT-versus-UT pairing in the best-of-three super regional round.

The Lady Vols are the NCAA tourney's No. 4 overall seed, while the Longhorns are No. 13.

"Anybody who makes it through a regional is really, really, really good," Tennessee coach Karen Weekly said earlier this week in a news conference. "These are the last 16 teams standing, so it's going to be a battle. Every super regional I've ever been a part of going way back to the very first one in 2005 with (pitcher Monica) Abbott on the mound has not been easy."

Friday afternoon's opener will start at 4 and be televised by ESPN2, while Saturday afternoon's second game is set for 3 on ABC. Details for Sunday's if-necessary showdown would be released later.

While Tennessee made program history earlier this month by sweeping the Southeastern Conference's regular-season and tournament titles on the way to its current 47-8 record, Texas carries a 45-13-1 mark into Knoxville that includes a runner-up finish to top-ranked Oklahoma in the Big 12 tournament. The Lady Vols and Longhorns were scheduled to play at the NFCA Leadoff Classic on Feb. 11 in Clearwater, Florida, but that matchup was rained out.

"I don't know if it's a good or bad thing that we didn't get that game played," Weekly said. "I just think a lot of people will have fun with the two oranges going at each other."

The Lady Vols will be led by the pitching duo of Ashley Rogers, the former Meigs County standout who is 17-1 this season with an 0.73 earned run average, and Payton Gottshall, who picked up two wins in the Knoxville Regional to improve to 15-1 with a 1.52 ERA. Rogers' ERA ranks third nationally.

Also powering Tennessee will be center fielder Kiki Milloy, who is hitting .427 and leads the nation with 25 home runs and .45 homer per contest.

Vols hire Milton

Tennessee football coach Josh Heupel on Thursday afternoon announced the hiring of former UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton as an offensive analyst.

Milton quarterbacked the Knights from 2016-18, with Heupel serving as his head coach in 2018.

"McKenzie represents everything that is great about college football," Heupel said through a release. "His perseverance, determination and leadership are attributes that made him successful as a player and will no doubt translate to him being an outstanding future coach.

"He's always been a student of the game and understands the why behind what we do."

Milton guided the Knights to a 27-6 record, which included a 13-0 mark in 2017, and to a pair of American Athletic Conference championships.

"I couldn't be more excited about starting my coaching career at Tennessee and reuniting with Coach Heupel," Milton said. "I am grateful to Coach Heupel and director of athletics Danny White for giving me this opportunity. Their leadership makes a difference.

"I look forward to helping the program in any way I can."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.