In a case of addition by delaying subtraction, Tennessee softball’s pitching got a whole better on Friday.
Ashley Rogers has opted to return for another season with the Lady Vols. She had the option because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shortened the 2020 season. She sat out that entire season. Rogers went through Senior Day festivities in May at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium but fans serenaded her with “one more year.”
They got what they wanted.
Tennessee softball’s Twitter account announced the news with a photo of the former Meigs County standout emoting after unleashing a pitch.
Above the photo is the headline “I’m back.” Rogers backed up the announcement by re-tweeting the post and writing, “granny year, here we come!”
In three seasons at Tennessee, Rogers ranks second to Lady Vols legend Monica Abbott in average strikeouts per seven innings (8.95) and opponent’s batting average (.157). She ranks third in program history in earned run average (1.68) and fifth in career strikeouts (633) and shutouts (19). She’s seventh in career victories (59).
In 2021, Rogers won 26 games, which ranked seventh nationally, and led the SEC in ERA (1.32) and innings pitched (217.1). She was limited by injury to 25 appearances and 15 starts last season. But she also threw 161 pitches in a brilliant 13-inning shutout of Mississippi State in the SEC tournament.
“You’d have to carry me off the field to come out of that game,” Rogers said that day, “especially just as the innings went on.”
Rogers’ recurring back problems and a lack of information about overuse injuries in college softball motivated her to chronicle her experience and write a term paper about the topic. She graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology in December of 2021 and currently is working on a master’s degree in biomechanics.
“Ashley has really embraced kind of a new normal and just redefined herself this season to be able to come out and pitch for her team,” Lady Vols softball coach Karen Weekly said.
Last week, Tennessee added transfer Payton Gottshall to its pitching staff. The right-hander, who was the Mid-American Conference pitcher of the year this season while at Bowling Green, will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
“We faced Payton two years ago and you could see that she had really good stuff,” Weekly said. “. . . You can tell that she’s extremely competitive and will bring a killer instinct to the (pitcher’s) circle.”
Gottshall had 27 victories this season and ranked second nationally in strikeout (374) and innings pitched (253.1). In three seasons at Bowling Green, she amassed a program-record 784 strikeouts. She ranks third among active NCAA pitchers in averaging 10.13 strikeouts per seven innings.
The rest of UT’s pitching staff will include Nicola Simpson, Ryleigh White, Karlyn Pickens and Charli Orsini. Simpson, a sophomore, is a member of the Canadian national team. Pickens, an incoming freshman, was the Gatorade softball player of year in North Carolina in 2021.
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at email@example.com.