Home runs from Alexis Clay and Shannon Doepking combined with a four-hit shutout from Monica Abbott put Tennessee one win away from its first national title with a 3-0 victory over Arizona Monday night at the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. 

In front of 5,231 fans, Abbott only allowed one Wildcat in scoring position and her offense staked her to an early lead on Alexia Clay’s second inning home run as the Lady Vols took the 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series. 

Abbott struck out eight and allowed four hits as she moved to 50-3 on the year to tie the school and NCAA records she set as a sophomore. Her second-inning strikeout of Jenae Leles marked another milestone for the Salinas, Calif., standout, as it was her 700th K of the year. 

“This was a good win. It was a good team win,” UT co-head coach Karen Weekly said. “We had a lot of confidence and came up big at critical times. We still have a lot of work to do because that’s just one win against a very good Arizona team.” 

Making her first start of the series and second at-bat in the WCWS, Clay, who went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run, stepped to the plate with one out and deposited a 2-0 offering from Taryne Mowatt over the fence in left center. Caitlin Lowe nearly robbed Clay of the home run, but the ball deflected off the end of her glove as she reached over the fence to attempt to make the catch. 

“I thought I was going to catch it,” Lowe said. “I jumped, and it went off the back of my glove.” 

“I knew she (Mowatt) was going to give me a good pitch to hit,” Clay said. “I found a good pitch and hit it. I was confident at first that it was going to go, but I got a little concerned when I saw Caitlin going for it.” 

Shannon Doepking extended the lead in the fourth as she blasted a one-out, 1-1 pitch over the fence in left to put UT up 2-0. The homer was Doepking’s first hit against Arizona, as she had been hitless in her previous eight at-bats. 

With Abbott rolling in the circle, The Lady Vols added their final run in the seventh. Clay led off with her second hit of the game, and following a sacrifice that moved pinch-runner Caitlin Ryan to second, Jennifer Griffin drew a walk. 

Mowatt struck out Danielle Pieroni for the second out of the inning, but she was unable to get out of the inning as Lindsay Schutzler singled to short and pinch-hitter India Chiles blooped a single just past the out-stretched glove of second baseman Chelsie Mesa to score Ryan and make it 3-0. 

“I was trying to get a good mix of pitches and stick to the game plan,” Abbott said. “I knew Arizona was going to come out swinging. You’re always looking to put more runs on the board, and I am confident in my teammates and what they are bringing to the plate.” 

Mowatt fell to 40-12 as she allowed the three runs on six hits with six strikeouts. Entering tonight’s game, the UA standout had only allowed one earned run over the team’s previous five WCWS games. She walked three in the game, something that could be attributed to fatigue considering she has thrown 708 pitches in the team’s six games at the series. 

“I felt fine out there tonight,” Mowatt said. “They got a hold of some pitches, but I felt that I had my pitches working tonight.” 

“It’s disappointing,” UA head coach Mike Candrea said of the loss. “We’ve been here before, and we can get it done as long as there’s an inning left to play. We have 24 hours to regroup and make the necessary adjustments.” 

Tonight’s attendance pushed the total series numbers to 51,269. The updated total with at least one more game to go extends the new attendance record that was officially established last night. 

Arizona will attempt to even the series Tuesday night at 7 p.m. CDT in a game that will be televised by ESPN2. Michigan dropped the opening game of the 2005 championship series and rallied to knock off UCLA twice to claim the national title. 

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