No. 8 Tennessee pulled off a miraculous seventh inning comeback to beat USC Upstate 7-3 and advance to the Knoxville Regional final on Saturday afternoon.
Entering the seventh inning, the Vols were being no hit and shutout. Down to its final out, Tennessee struck for seven runs, all with two outs to complete the comeback.
Tennessee co-head coach Karen Weekly labeled it as the greatest comeback in Tennessee history following the game in an interview with ESPN’s broadcast team.
“Kept telling them there’s no time clock in softball. The game ends when we say it ends, so stay up here as long as we can and don’t make that last out,” Weekly said.
Megan Geer led off the top half of the seventh with a walk before Scarlett McSwain reached on an error and Abby Lockman was hit by a pitch. With the bases loaded, Haley Bearden entered as a pinch-hitter and hit a two-run single up the middle to cut the Spartans’ lead to 3-2.
With Tennessee (46-10) down to its final strike, Aubrey Leach smacked a go-ahead three-run homer over the right field fence to give the Vols a 5-3 lead. It was just Leach’s second home run on the season.
“She doesn’t hit a lot of home runs, but I knew she had the capability,” Weekly said of Leach.
SEC Player of the Year Meghan Gregg provided Tennessee with some insurance runs, hitting a two-run home run to extend the Vols’ lead to 7-3.
Matty Moss pitched a scoreless inning in the bottom of the seventh to close out the game. Moss relieved Maryville native Caylan Arnold who received the start in the circle for the Volunteers. Arnold pitched six innings to pick up her 20th win of the season, allowing three runs – only one earned.
“She threw a gem,” Weekly said of Arnold’s NCAA Tournament debut. “The game had a different feel to it, but she did her job. She kept us within reach.”
All three of the Spartans’ runs resulted from controversial calls from the umpire crew.
In the bottom of the first inning, USC Upstate’s Ansley Gilstrap scored despite never touching home plate. Gilstrap was stuck in a pickle between third-and-home when she decided to take off for home plate. Vols’ third baseman Chelsea Seggern tagged Gilstrap before she reached home, but dropped the ball as she applied the tag. Arnold picked up the ball and tagged Gilstrap as she fell to the ground. Home plate umpire John Baca never saw the tag applied and ruled Gilstrap play. On the next play, USC Upstate added another run on a sac fly that shouldn’t have counted because the pop out should have been the third out of the inning.
Up 2-0, USC Upstate tacked on another run, despite the base runner clearly running into Gregg at shortstop. The umpire crew missed the interference and the run was allowed to count, extending the Spartans’ lead to 3-0.
With the win, Tennessee advances to the Knoxville Regional final. The Vols will have two games to win one on Sunday, to advance to the Super Regionals. Tennessee’s will face the winner of tonight’s elimination game tomorrow at noon.
Edited by Robert Hughes
Featured image by Joy Kimbrough, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics