Dan Fleser: 9-0 Rout Advances Lady Vols To College World Series

  • Saturday, May 27, 2023
  • Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser

Tennessee’s softball players made their way across left field at Lee Stadium, driven by both joy and purpose. They had a large number “8” in hand and their intent was to stick it to the Lady Vols’ Women’s College World Series history.

The program had reached Oklahoma City seven times previously, a legacy that was commemorated on the outfield wall. But there had been no trips since 2015, none until Saturday’s 9-0 victory over Texas completed a Super Regional sweep.

A celebration that began on the infield eventually reached that outfield wall, where the new number was placed over the old one with authority and slammed repeatedly to assure that it was firmly in place.

The Lady Vols’ decorative flair resembled their competitive touch. Starting pitcher Payton Gottshall was efficient and dominant in making a single first-inning run stand until the hitters roared, delivering eight runs in their final two at-bats. Six came in the seventh inning, when Tennessee doubled its output of runs and hits.

Finally, the Lady Vols could exhale. They moved swiftly to euphoria.

“It’s just sheer jubilation; I can’t describe it,” said Tennessee coach Karen Weekly, pretty much nailing the scene in an on-field interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe. “It’s been a long time. There’s so many of these kids that believed that we could do this. Kiki (Milloy), Ashley (Rogers), I mean we have so many great leaders on this team. They’re the ones who lead. I don’t even have to step into the huddles, and I am so proud of them. That’s who I wanted this for was them.”

Milloy took charge and gave Tennessee (49-8) the lead in its first at-bat. With the Lady Vols the visiting team, she led off with a double to center field and took third on a throwing error. Milloy hustled home on Zaida Puni’s grounder, beating the throw to score.

Gottshall took it from there. Despite striking out the side in the first inning, the right-hander threw just 26 pitches through the first three innings. She didn’t allow either a baserunner or a softball out of the infield until the fifth. Texas’ first hit didn’t happen until the sixth.

The hitter struggled to follow suit, though, mustering just one hit with runners in scoring position through the first five. And that hit, McKenna Gibson’s single, resulted in Milloy being thrown out at home plate.

A break came in the sixth when freshman Destiny Rodriguez, who was playing in place of injured Lair Beautae, continued her clutch relief with an RBI single. Another run scored on a subsequent misplay by the Longhorns.

The big hit of the seventh came off the bat of catcher Giulia Koutsoyanopulos, who had just one hit in her previous 33 at-bats. She drove a base-loaded single through the right side of the infield. When the ball got past the right-fielder a race around the bases ensued. It didn’t end until Koutsoyanopulos dove head-first across home plate with the fourth run of the frantic sequence.

The ensuing celebration at home plate was a preview of the jubilation to come.

* * *

Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 1988. He is a 2022 inductee to the Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame. He can be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com.

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