Dan Fleser: Koutsoyanopulos Comes Through As Lady Vols Win 7th Straight SEC Series

  • Sunday, April 21, 2024
  • Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser

Tennessee put its mind to winning a softball game Sunday afternoon. In this instance, it was quite the thought process for the Lady Vols.

Nearly every pitch and five-plus innings worth of at-bats went into converting a furrowed brow-like tension into joy and celebration of a 3-0 SEC victory over LSU at Lee Stadium. The victory gave No. 4 Tennessee (34-8, 14-4 SEC) its seventh consecutive conference series win and 14th in the last 15 series going back to last season.

There probably was some relief involved as well after Giulia Koutsoyanopulos’ two-out, two-run double in the sixth broke a scoreless tie and rewarded starting pitcher Karlyn Pickens’ gritty 119-pitch effort. There had to be a collective exhale on the part of the hitters, who were shut out on Saturday and encouraged to close ranks for the series finale.

“When you go up there feeling like it’s on your shoulders and you’re trying to do too much, it’s a lonely way to play and it’s a really exhausting way to play,” Lady Vols coach Karen Weekly said. “When you do that, you’re probably darn beat up by the sixth or seventh innings. But when you go up there just trying to have a good at-bat for the girls to your left and right, it’s also easier. You still have a lot left in the tank. And you can do something like we did.”

Koutsoyanopulos singled to right field in the second inning. Weekly mentioned that she occasionally had pinch-hit this season for the first baseman but wouldn’t think of it this time.

“I just felt like her at-bats were getting better and better,” Weekly said. “ . . . She had this look in her eye. She knew what she was doing up there.”

Well, Koutsoyanopulos conceded to knowing what she didn’t want to do: “don’t get yourself out on a pitch you shouldn’t be going for.”

So, she went after an off-speed pitch. Or was it a rise ball? “I don’t know,” she said.

Whatever it was, she got it. Did she ever, lashing a liner over the head of right-fielder McKenzie Redoutey and off the fence on the fly. For Pickens, it wasn’t a matter of if one of Tennessee’s hitters could deliver in this manner but when.

“It was a time bomb waiting to happen,” she said.

In the meantime, the sophomore right-hander, who gave up four hits and walked four, defused multiple scoring threats by No. 7 LSU (35-10, 11-10), stranding eight baserunners over six innings. Weekly opted to give Pickens the start over Payton Gottshall, who nearly threw a perfect game on Friday. The coach’s thinking was that, after Saturday’s start, Pickens might have more to work with in terms of overall performance. Pickens apparently had some leftover determination, too.

“Coming off the loss, I wanted to come out strong,” she said, “make a point to (LSU) that we’re coming out to fight today.”

For her, the battle tends to become a blur. Therefore, Sunday’s specifics were hard to distinguish. Her mind filled the blanks with this satisfying thought: “In the moment, there’s definitely cool moments.”       

* * *      

Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since 1988. He is a member of the Tennessee Sportswriters and the U.S. Basketball Writers Halls of Fame. He can be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com.

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