Fresh from upsets of No. 4 seed LSU and No. 1 seed Alabama, the fifth-seeded Bulldogs squared off with the third-seeded Volunteers for the SEC Softball Tournament championship. The Big Orange, who swept a doubleheader against Georgia during the regular season, overcame an early deficit to win the game in extra innings.
The proceedings began with a bang, as a one-out solo home run by center fielder Taylor Schlopy was followed by a walk and a hit batsman, setting the stage for first baseman Kristyn Sandberg to drive a three-run shot to left field to give the Red and Black an early 4-0 advantage. The Volunteers halved that lead in the fourth frame, making the most of a Bulldog fielding error with a first-pitch home run that made the score 4-2.
The Athenians handed the Big Orange their second unearned run of the evening on a fielder’s choice, a stolen base, a wild pitch, and a passed ball in the bottom of the fifth canto. Shortstop Laura Trout, who committed the error that allowed a Tennessee run to score, then made up for her earlier miscue with an infield single to drive in a run in the top of the sixth stanza.
Another towering two-run homer by designated player and third baseman Jessica Spigner tied it up in the home half of the canto, so the contest proceeded to the final scheduled inning with the two teams evenly matched in runs (5-5) and hits (7-7). Both contestants went three up and three down in the seventh frame, so the contest proceeded to extra innings, where Tennessee catcher and left fielder Shelby Burchell sent a walk-off home run to center field to deliver the league championship to Knoxville and deny the Bulldogs what would have been their first conference tourney title in softball.
This was an aggravating way to lose a game. All five of Georgia’s runs were earned, whereas two Tennessee scores were of the unearned variety. Bulldog miscues gave the Lady Vols the extra runs that made the difference between a 5-4 win and a 6-5 loss for the Red and Black. While the Big Orange played well down the stretch to dig themselves out of a hole, that alone wouldn’t have been enough without help; Georgia lost it more than Tennessee won it. An impressive run in the SEC Tournament came up just short, as the Athenians stopped themselves from claiming their third straight postseason upset to notch a league championship.
Nevertheless, all is not lost, as Georgia came into Oxford already assured of a spot in the national postseason field, and the Bulldogs certainly did themselves no harm by making it to the conference finals. The selection show announcing the NCAA Softball Tournament field will air at 10:00 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.