Tonya Callahan's two-run home run in the bottom of the 11th broke a scoreless tie with Michigan in the early morning hours of Monday and forced an if necessary game between the two schools at noon for the right to face UCLA in the championship series later in the evening.
The blast came off Michigan starter Jennie Ritter who went the distance and allowed the pair of runs on seven hits with 13 strikeouts. Monica Abbott, who threw 18 innings on the day, continued her stellar pitching for Tennessee, allowing six hits with nine strikeouts in the complete-game shutout.
"I'm overwhelmed," UT co-head coach Karen Weekly said. "It was a great game. I'm proud of Monica and this team for the gutsy performance. Our team's pride in defense showed. It was a great team effort."
Kristi Durant led off the inning with a single, and Callahan stepped to the plate and with two strikes sent a high fly ball over the left field fence to end the marathon that lasted two minutes short of three and a half hours.
"I didn't think I got a good pitch to hit," Callahan said. "I had two strikes, so I had to come out swinging the bat. I hit what she gave me."
Both pitchers battled to a scoreless tie through the seventh inning.
In a game where base running opportunities were few and far between, neither team was able to capitalize on the opportunities they were given.
Callahan led off the second with a single, but Ritter struck out the side to end the frame. Michigan threatened in the fifth as Stephanie Bercaw led off with a single. After a Becky Marx fielder's choice, Rebekah Milian reached and stole second only to be stranded by Tiffany Haas' fly out to left.
Katherine Card continued her hot hitting for the Lady Vols as she singled to lead off the fifth. Shannon Doepking sacrificed her to second, but Ritter once again came up big with a pair of strikeouts to end the frame.
Michigan threatened in the seventh as Grace Leutele doubled to lead off the frame. Abbott struck out Bercaw, and then got out of the inning with a Marx grounder and a put-out of Leutele at third.
The Volunteers put the winning run in scoring position in the eighth. With one out, Natalie Brock singled to right and then moved to second on a fielder's choice by Kendra Posey that Ritter fielded but couldn't make the play on. Ritter once again worked out of the jam, striking out Lindsay Schutzler and pinch hitter Brittany Bessho.
Michigan put the go-ahead run at third base in the top of the 10th. It was the first runner for either team to stand just 60 feet away from breaking the scoreless deadlock. After a pair of fielder's choices recorded the first two outs, Haas singled off Kendra Posey's glove to move Milian to third.
"Our inability to get the big hit when we needed it was the difference in the game," Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins said. "Softball is all about timely hitting, and that's something we've done all season. Now we have to figure out a way to get to Abbott. I know our team will be ready to play."
The play-in game between the Lady Vols and Wolverines will be televised on ESPN2, while ESPN will show game one of the championship series.
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