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Tennessee Rides Arnold's Complete Game, Forces Game 3

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(Photo Courtesy of Tennessee Athletics)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Natalie Lugo’s fastball trailed just away from the plate and smacked into catcher Jordan Roberts’ mitt.

Ball.

Tennessee batter Haley Bearden paused, looked at the umpire and jogged to first base with two fists raised high in the air. Her teammate, Aubrey Leach strode from third to home before she was mobbed by her teammates.

Lugo’s tiny mistake with a 3-2 count proved Florida’s most costly, as it fell to Tennessee 3-2 on a game-ending walk in the bottom of the ninth inning. The SEC rivals will have a quick turnaround for Game 3 of the NCAA Super Regionals at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

A combination of defensive and pitching blunders helped the Volunteers scrape together runs. However, UT pitcher Caylan Arnold limited mistakes down the stretch, picking up her 11th win of 2019 in front of a record crowd (3,140) at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium.

“I felt like in the past when we’ve been in Super Regionals my adrenaline has kind of taken over,” Arnold said, “and I didn’t feel that this game. I felt very calm and collected, which I think is what made the difference.”

Arnold remained poised through nine innings of action. She threw 177 pitches and allowed one earned run on seven hits and five walks.

The junior pitcher faced trouble in extra innings. She allowed a leadoff double to UF second baseman Hannah Adams in the eighth and walked back-to-back batters in the ninth. However, she forced ground balls to extinguish both scoring threats.

“When I handed her the ball today, I said ‘You’re our back-to-the-wall girl, so let’s get after it today,’” UT coach Karen Weekly said. “She wants the ball, and she’s going to get out there and fight for her team.”

The Volunteers struck started the first inning by frustrating Florida starting pitcher Kelly Barnhill and the UF defense with delayed steals.

Shortstop Aubrey Leach led off with a single through the right side then stole second. She recognized Barnhill’s inability to throw overhand and caught the Florida infield sleeping.

Leach advanced to third on a passed ball, then third baseman Chelsea Seggern sprayed an RBI single to left field, giving UT the first-inning lead.

“We thought our baserunning could be a little more aggressive than it has been the last couple games,” Leach said, “and that was just the idea thrown around, and it was pretty successful.”

Bearden also stole second on a delayed steal in the first, but it was A pitching blunder by Barnhill led to Tennessee’s 2-1 lead.

Barnhill plunked catcher Kaili Phillips to lead off the bottom of the fourth. Phillips touched home on a pinch-hit single by Madison Pacini later in the frame.

The Volunteers continued their aggression in the eighth when center fielder Cailin Hannon unsuccessfully attempted to steal home on a delay with two outs.

However, it was the lack of aggression at the plate in the ninth that helped UT tie the series. Barnhill walked Leach and designated player Amanda Ayala before being pulled for relief pitchers Katie Chronister then Lugo.

Bearden’s extreme discipline with a 3-2 count may have been a risk with such a close pitch, but Weekly said that’s the mentality her team needs to get to the Women’s College World Series.

“You don’t back into anything in this life,” Weekly said, “and if you want to get to Oklahoma City and play for a national championship, you’ve got to get out there and take some risks.”

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