Lady Vols are Women's College World Series-bound: ‘I just knew this team would get after it’

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee pitcher Payton Gottshall allowed just two hits Saturday afternoon as the Lady Vols routed Texas 9-0 to win their super regional and clinch a bid to the Women's College World Series.

Payton Gottshall didn't throw a no-hitter during the regular season or in the Southeastern Conference softball tournament for the Tennessee Lady Vols.

She nearly earned her second in as many weekends in the NCAA tournament.

Tennessee punched its first Women's College World Series ticket since 2015 on Saturday afternoon behind Gottshall, who didn't yield a hit to Texas until the sixth inning in a 9-0 shellacking that enabled the Lady Vols to sweep the super regional in Sherri Parker Lee Stadium. Gottshall wound up allowing a second hit in the seventh inning, but the Lady Vols by that point already had their stranglehold on a 49-8 record and a coveted trip to Oklahoma City.

"I couldn't be happier for our team," Tennessee coach Karen Weekly said in a news conference. "I sat there watching them warm up before the first game yesterday and honestly got tears in my eyes just thinking about how much I love coaching this group and how they've totally bought into what the coaching staff is teaching them.

"They've bought into the process and to the joy of going out and competing every day, and when a team does those things, you want success for them."

The Lady Vols, who have outscored their opposition 42-6 so far in NCAA tourney competition, will open WCWS play Thursday.

Tennessee has yet to lose this postseason, going 3-0 in the SEC tournament, 3-0 in last weekend's Knoxville Regional and 2-0 this weekend. Gottshall threw a five-inning no-hitter against Northern Kentucky last weekend.

"Our defense has been amazing, and they do this stuff in practice all the time," Gottshall said. "It takes a weight off of me knowing that I have them behind me."

The Longhorns, who reached the WCWS best-of-three championship series last year before losing twice to Oklahoma, concluded their season at 45-15-1.

"That was not a 9-0 game," Weekly said. "Texas is an extremely tough team with a lot of young talent."

Tennessee took a quick 1-0 lead when Kiki Milloy led off the game with a double into center field and took third on a throwing error. Milloy then scored on a Zaida Puni groundout.

It wasn't until the sixth inning that the Lady Vols could extend their advantage, with Destiny Rodriguez singling into right-center to score Rylie West. When the ball came into the infield, Rodriguez broke for second and got there safely, which allowed Giulia Koutsoyanopulos to race home from third to make it 3-0.

The Longhorns unraveled in the seventh, much to the delight of the 2,472 in attendance, giving up six runs. They finished the game with five errors.

"I knew coming into the regionals and the super regionals that we were doing this," Milloy said. "It didn't matter what needed to happen to do it. I just knew this team would get after it to win the games we needed to."

Said Weekly: "Our fans are just phenomenal. This place has been louder these last two or three weeks than at any time since I've been here."

  photo  Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee softball coach Karen Weekly receives a celebratory drenching after Saturday's 9-0 win over Texas that clinched the NCAA super regional for the Lady Vols.

Terry in portal

Tennessee defensive tackle Da'Jon Terry, who missed spring football practice due to personal reasons, has entered the NCAA transfer portal and will play his fifth season of eligibility elsewhere.

The 6-foot-4, 321-pounder from Meridian, Mississippi, spent his first two seasons at Kansas before transferring to Tennessee, where he racked up 35 tackles, six tackles for loss and three sacks in 25 games during the past two years. Terry had sacks last season against Florida and Kentucky, and his 231 snaps played ranked third among defensive linemen behind Omari Thomas and Bryson Eason.

Tennessee's top defensive interior linemen later this year are expected to be Thomas, Eason, Elijah Simmons, Kurrott Garland and Arizona State transfer Omarr Norman-Lott.

Lewis commits

The Vols received their 12th football commitment for the 2024 signing cycle Saturday, getting a nonbinding pledge from running back Peyton Lewis of Salem High School in Virginia.

Lewis is a four-star prospect in the composite rankings, which list him as the nation's No. 15 running back and the No. 215 recruit overall. The 6-1, 190-pounder picked the Vols over South Carolina and also had scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida and Penn State.

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