Arizona Falls in Game One of Softball Championship Series
June 4, 2007
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -Upon learning she'd get to make her first start at the Women's College World Series, freshman Alexia Clay felt oddly calm about the opportunity.
To keep any jitters from creeping in, she tried to maintain her normal routine through pregame batting practice - when she first learned she'd be in the starting lineup - and take a steady rhythm into the game.
In her first time at the plate, Clay powered a solo home run that sent Tennessee on its way to a 3-0 win against defending champion Arizona in the opening game of the Women's College World Series finals Monday night.
'Surprisingly I was really relaxed,' said Clay, who'd grounded out to the pitcher in her only previous at-bat in the World Series. 'I was surprised how relaxed I was.'
Clay's second-inning home run to left-center field against Taryne Mowatt (40-12) put the Lady Vols ahead 1-0, and Monica Abbott made the lead stand up with her fourth straight shutout as Tennessee moved within one victory of its first national championship. Game 2 of the best-of-three series is Tuesday night.
Shannon Doepking added a solo home run of her own in the fourth inning, and Southeastern Conference player of the year India Chiles had an RBI single in her first pinch-hitting chance of the season for Tennessee (63-6).
Abbott (50-3) tied the school record for wins in a season that she set in 2005 and extended her shutout streak to 33 2-3 innings.
'We've just seen a different kind of side to Monica right now. She's just really on,' Clay said. 'Her change-up, her rise ball, everything's working for her.
'She's throwing really good and really hard and trying to really keep batters off-balance, and she's doing a good job.'
Abbott, the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, also shut out the Wildcats 1-0 in the preliminary rounds on Friday. Arizona coach Mike Candrea said his hitters need to do a better job of putting the ball in play against the NCAA's career leader in wins, strikeouts and shutouts.
'I want them to go out and play this game and play it hard, and whatever happens is going to happen,' Candrea said. 'But I'll guarantee you this team will not lay down and die. This team will come back and play.'
Tennessee kept Chiles on the bench until she pinch-hit in the sixth inning. Chiles, who has been playing through a torn ACL in her right knee and an injured left shoulder, had a two-out RBI single with the bases loaded to extend the lead to 3-0.
Lady Vols co-coach Karen Weekly said Chiles' knee became swollen a night earlier, and the team decided it needed to be careful with her. That also gave the Lady Vols a chance to get Clay into the lineup.
Clay's fourth home run of the season nicked off the mitt of Arizona center fielder Caitlin Lowe, who knocked the yellow padding off the top of the wall. Lowe then spiked her glove into the grass before replacing the padding.
Doepking left no doubt with her sixth home run, a high arcing shot to left field off Mowatt.
'After the kids watched the film, we just told them we need to be more aggressive when she throws strikes because all pitchers are going to have to put the ball over the dish at some point,' Weekly said.
Abbott fanned eight to become the first pitcher ever to record 700 strikeouts in a single season. She pumped her left, pitching hand in the air after getting K'Lee Arredondo to fly out to end the game.
Arizona (48-14-1), the No. 1 seed, threatened in the third when Sam Banister lined a leadoff single to left field and pinch runner Jill Malina moved to second on a sacrifice. After striking out Adrienne Acton, Abbott intentionally walked Lowe - who's hitting a team-best .415 - before getting Chelsie Mesa to fly out to end the inning.
The Wildcats, seeking their eighth national title, also got singles from Jenae Leles in the fourth inning, Kristie Fox in the sixth and Banister in the seventh, but never again got a runner as far as second base.
Mowatt also pitched a complete game, giving up six hits and three walks. She struck out five.
'I think we all know that it's not over till it's over, and we need to come out tomorrow because Arizona's a great team and they could take two games from us,' Clay said.