Jennifer Griffin picked the perfect time for her first NCAA tournament home run as the ninth-inning, two-run blast gave Tennessee a 3-1 win and eliminated Arizona State from the Women’s College World Series.
Entering the extra frames, Griffin had gone 0-for-2 with two strikeouts and a walk against Arizona State starter Katie Burkhart. Struggling down the stretch, Griffin had not hit a home run since April 19, but she changed that with the first pitch offering that she sent to the last row of bleachers in left center. The home run came in front of 7,436, the second largest single-session attendance in series history and largest non-title game gathering.
“I was trying to be more aggressive at the plate,” Griffin said. “I definitely knew it was gone when I hit it. I was kind of shocked at first.”
Monica Abbott silenced the ASU bats in the bottom half of the second extra frame to send Tennessee (60-11) into a match-up with Arizona in one national semifinal. Arizona State finishes the season at 53-15.
Abbott struck out 10, moving her above the 1,700-career strikeout mark. She gave up a lone run on four hits in the complete-game effort as she moved to 43-9 on the year. The strikeout mark makes her just the fourth Division I player to reach the milestone, joining fellow WCWS competitors Cat Osterman and Alicia Hollowell along with former Southern Mississippi hurler Courtney Blades.
Burkhart dropped to 30-8 as she gave up all three runs, only two earned, on eight hits with 14 K’s while throwing 269 pitches in two games Saturday.
Tennessee broke open the pitcher’s duel with a run in the top of the fifth. Kristi Durant, who went 2-for-3 with two runs scored in the game, led off with a single, and pinch-runner Lillian Hammond moved to second on Shannon Deopking’s sacrifice bunt.
Following a walk to Natalie Brock, who was pinch-hitting for Griffin, Burkhart got the second out of the inning on a strikeout. Sarah Fekete loaded the bases with a single, and India Chiles hit a bouncer back to the circle that was mishandled by Burkhart to plate Hammond with the game’s first run.
“That was absolutely a fantastic fastpitch softball game,” Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “That is the type of game you expect here at this point of the season. I was proud of the way our team fought tonight. I told them we had been a good hitting team all season long, and we didn’t hit last night against Northwestern. I challenged them to visualize what they do best. I told them to lay it all on the line and they did.”
The UT lead didn’t last past the fifth, as the Sun Devils tied the game up with one swing from Heidi Knabe’s bat. With two away in the inning, Knabe lifted a shot, her second of the day, out left field that landed on the NFCA trailer. The earlier home run led off a two-run third that propelled the Sun Devils over Oregon State 3-1 in the day’s opening game.
Following the home run, Abbott allowed only two Sun Devils to reach base the remainder of the contest, while the Lady Vols put a runner at second in the seventh and again in the eighth.
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