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May 23, 2014

Softball faces big arm, bats in Super Regional

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Defending national champion Oklahoma faces the team it had to defeat in the 2013 Championship Series of the Women's College World Series in Tennessee at 6 p.m. Friday.

Friday's game at Marita Hynes Field will be the first in the best-of-three Super Regional stage of the NCAA tournament. The Sooners will be banking on their home field advantage in what Patty Gasso said will probably have the feeling of WCWS game.

"To me, you've got some of the best athletes in the country playing on this field this weekend on both sides," Gasso said.

Even after defeating a potent Tennessee team twice last year, the Sooners trail the Lady Vols 3-2 in the all-time series. UT also boasts one of the best pitchers and hitters in the college game.

With 995 strikeouts, senior Ellen Renfroe could become the first Tennessee (45-10) pitcher since Monica Abbott to record 1,000 strikeouts in a career this weekend.

She holds a 1.93 earned run average and teams are batting a paltry 1.87 against her. But she's focused on beating OU right now.

"They're obviously here for a reason. They're good," Renfroe said. "They're going to be tough to beat, but hopefully we'll go out there and play hard and see what happens."

Shortstop Madison Shipman is having an All-American caliber season at the plate. She's batting a career-high .431 and has hit 18 home runs. The senior slugger has been walked nearly twice as many times this season (45) as she was in the last two seasons combined (46).

Shipman, who was drafted No. 2 overall in this year's National Pro Fastpitch Draft, has been struck out just eight times all year.

"They have probably the best shortstop in America, potentially the national player of the year at shortstop," Gasso said.

Freshman Annie Aldrete is tied for the Lady Vols record for home runs in a season with 19. She was named one of three finalists for the NFCA Freshman of the Year trophy on Thursday.

Aldrete is batting .405 against ranked opponents with seven homers, 10 walks and 22 RBIs.

With Shipman and her in the lineup, Tennessee has already hit a school record 79 home runs this year. Sophomore pitcher Kelsey Stevens knows she will have her work cut out for her and is concentrating on the things she can control in the circle.

"I think really just setting the tone, like not getting behind [in the count] and controlling the at-bat the whole time," Stevens said.

Oklahoma will seek to counter Shipman and Aldrete's offensive prowess with that of juniors Lauren Chamberlain and Shelby Pendley. Pendley has steadily kept up her hitting all season with a .426 batting average and 16 home runs.

Though Chamberlain missed much of the season with a back injury and tore the posterior cruciate ligament in her right knee in the last weekend of regular season play, she played in two of OU's Regional games last week and hit two dingers.

"I think Patty Gasso said it in an interview," Karen Weekly said, "a one-legged Lauren Chamberlain is better than most players out there, and I think she's right."

Facing a defending champion is nothing new for the Lady Vols. This the second straight year and third time in school history that the Lady Vols have had to play the previous year's WCWS title winner in a Super Regional. They're excited to make a series of it.

"I've been watching a lot of game film this week, and Oklahoma's a very strong hitting team," Karen Weekly said. "There aren't any weaknesses in their hitting lineup.

"They may have lost a few hitters last year, but they replaced them with some very strong hitters. They're going to be tough to beat."




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