Prior to the first pitch between the No. 10 Lady Vols (26-8, 8-5 SEC) and Kentucky (16-18, 3-5 SEC) on Friday, UT co-head coach Ralph Weekly, entering his 11th season at Tennessee, was greeted with a standing ovation after being recently inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Hall of Fame.
Weekly, with 1,015 career wins and counting, added two wins for the orange over the weekend, taking two-of-three games from the Wildcats in a series that started and ended with a sold-out crowd on their feet.
Knotted at two on Sunday in the bottom of the seventh, Shelby Burchell delivered for the Lady Vols in clutch fashion.
With just one out remaining in the last stanza of regulation and rain beginning to fall, Burchell drove a 2-2 fastball over the right-center wall, winning the game and series on a walk-off.
“I was just hoping that (the ball) wouldn’t go straight to somebody and find a gap to let someone else have an opportunity to drive me in,” said Burchell. “It’s an awesome feeling — there is no better feeling — but knowing I could deliver for my team is what makes the feeling special for me.”
However, just like the weekend, it was not all blue skies and sunshine for the Lady Vols.
 An uncharacteristic three errors plagued the Vols en route to an opening game 5-3 upset loss to the Wildcats on Friday.
Despite sophomore standout Ellen Renfroe tallying her eighth game with at least 10 strikeouts, Tennessee batters would leave a total of 10 runners stranded.
First striking in the top half of the third, the Wildcats were able to bang out nine hits that manufactured five early runs to best the Vols on Friday. The loss would be Ellen Renfroe’s first defeat since March 11.
“Kentucky played a fantastic game tonight and was most deserving of this win,” said Weekly. “I take full responsibility for our performance. I changed the lineup tonight in three spots, which I normally don’t do.”   
Lack of offensive production hindered the Lady Vols on Friday. Come Saturday, they would find a solution to their silent bats, emerging relentless at the plate in game two.
“Any loss is disappointing,” said junior second basemen Lauren Gibson. “In the next two games we really proved to ourselves that we could get back into the groove and go win. Kentucky’s record doesn’t show it but they are a tough team.”
The Lady Vols are 24-4 this season when scoring an opening inning run; the trend would continue Saturday on the strength of a 2-for-3, three RBI effort from sophomore shortstop Madison Shipman.
Led by Shipman’s first inning RBI double, the Vols gouged Kentucky for eight runs in the opening two frames of play.
“I went out there (Saturday) with the same approach as I always do and luckily the ball got through,” said Shipman. “It helped, too, because the bases were loaded. It’s always good to produce when you’re in that bases-loaded situation. The earlier we get runs, it seems, the better.”
On the other side, a three-hour and three-minute rain delay in the top of the fourth would not phase UT junior pitcher Ivy Renfroe who hurled her third consecutive shutout.
“Ivy (Renfroe) did really well,” said Weekly. “I was really impressed with her work on the mound (on Saturday). I mean it has to be hard to come off a three-hour delay and finish off an SEC team, and she didn’t just finish them off — she buried them.”
Ivy Renfroe scattered five Wildcat hits through five innings of work, securing a commanding 8-0 victory that took the Vols just five innings to earn, as the NCAA’s mercy rule ended the game midway through the fifth.   
Sunday’s rubber-match would prove to be much closer with sisters Ivy Renfroe and Ellen Renfroe splitting time in the circle for the Vols.
Ivy Renfroe and Ellen Renfroe combined for seven innings of work that allowed just two runs off of five hits.
“Coming off a loss, I really wanted to get it done for my team today,” said Ellen Renfroe. “The game was close, no easy win, but our hitters picked us up when we needed it. I think we have a lot of momentum going forward.”
Kentucky leading by one with two outs in the Vols’ half of the third, Gibson blasted her team-leading 10th home run of the year, breaking the Wildcats’ lead.
The solo blast gave way to the first of two unanswered UT runs, including a four-hit fifth, but late inning drama made thinks interesting.  
Wildcats first baseman Ellen Weaver roped a first pitch, lead-off single to open the seventh.
A fielder’s choice and sac-bunt later advanced the UK runner to third with two down. Ellen Renfroe’s next pitch got past catcher Ashley Andrews and would allow the Wildcats’ tie-breaking run to cross heading into the bottom of the seventh.
Then came Burchell’s series-surviving walk-off home run.
“I was scared, to be honest,” said Ellen Renfroe. “The weather looking the way it was and being tied up, you never want to feel responsible for something like that. But (Burchell) came out and locked it up for us. I am just so happy for her.”
The Lady Vols will next see action in a mid-week Wednesday double-header against the Georgia Bulldogs.