The Road to Oklahoma City starts here.


WCWS Game 1: Tennessee Slugs Past Alabama in Opener

Top Stories

This article is free to read, but please consider subscribing today to support D1Softball’s coverage!

Before his team played Tennessee in the opening game of the Women’s College World Series, Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy said, “We’re the underdogs big-time. I feel like we’re like the little engine that could.”

He was right. The team with train tracks surrounding its home field in Knoxville knocked the Tide off the rails early.

Sparked by the bottom of the order, No. 4 Tennessee defeated No. 5 Alabama 10-5 on Thursday afternoon at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium.

The Lady Vols (50-8), who were making their first appearance in the WCWS since 2015, hardy looked like relative newcomers on the big stage. The SEC regular-season and tournament champions beat Alabama (45-21) for the fourth time in five meetings this season and did so authoratively with contributions from throughout the roster.

Eight Tennessee players scored at least one run and the 6-9 batters in the order had five hits and four RBI.

“I just told them in the locker room, we’ve been talking about this, the mark of a good team, a team that can compete for championships is the bottom of the order,” Tennessee head coach Karen Weekly said. “Everyone is going to have studs at the top of the order. But it’s those kids that don’t get the publicity, their name’s not always in the headline, what do they do?

Tennessee started ace Ashley Rogers while Alabama went with a formula that had worked well in the postseason with Jaala Torrence in the circle and Montana Fouts waiting in the bullpen if needed.

But Tennessee’s prolific offense thwarted the Tide’s plan. Alabama cycled through three pitchers and none were named Fouts.

Rogers worked through some early nerves, putting two runners on with no outs in the first inning before retiring the next three batters to escape the jam.

“That was huge, huge. If we go down there, it just kind of depends,” Weekly said. “If you go down one, you’re probably feeling okay. For them to get runners on first and third, and then we get three outs, the ball doesn’t get out of the infield, that was big time. Big time. That just speaks to Ashley’s toughness. She just willed herself to get those outs, and she did.”

The bottom of Tennessee’s order provided Rogers with some support, igniting a two-out outburst in the second inning that pushed across four runs.

Giulia Koutsoyanopulos got on base with a dribbler to third that was bobbled by Alabama third baseman Ashley Prange, who finished the game with three errors. Freshman Destiny Rodriguez prolonged the inning with a single to center. Rodriguez is filling in for Lair Beautae, who suffered a concussion before the Super Regional and hasn’t played since. 

Katie Taylor, Tennessee’s No. 9 hitter, drove in the first two runs with a two-run double to right center field. Zaida Puni made Alabama pay for intentionally walking Kiki Milloy, driving in two more runs with a drive off the left center field wall.

“It was the two-out rally that killed us when we went up there (Knoxville) as well, and in the SEC tournament they had a huge rally with two outs, bases cleared two outs,” Murphy said. “It wasn’t like two people on and we got two outs. There was nobody on.”

The Tide, who were back in the WCWS after a one-year absence, staged their own two-out rally in the third inning.

Ally Shipman, who transferred from Tennessee to Alabama two years ago, hit an RBI single against her former batterymate Rogers, and Tide freshman Kenleigh Cahalan drove a ball that bounced off first base and allowed Bailey Dowling to score to cut the deficit to 4-2.

Tennessee answered right back in the bottom half with freshman Jamison Brockenbrough belting a two-run home run to center field for a 6-2 lead. All nine Tennessee starters had reached base by the third inning. 

The Vols added four runs in the fourth inning, highlighted by a three-run home run by Rylie West, to put the game away.

Alabama avoided being run-ruled when Cahalan hit a two-run double with two outs in the fifth against Tennessee reliever Payton Gottshall. The senior transfer from Bowling Green gave up another run in the sixth on a pinch-hit home run by Alabama freshman Marlie Giles, but the Lady Vols had provided enough insurance for it not to matter.

“When we got to 10, you just kind of felt like they’re not going to go away, and they didn’t,” Weekly said. “But I’m really proud of our team of just how we were tough the whole game and just kept our foot on the pedal and built up a big enough lead that we could come away with the win.

What to Know

  • Torrence was having a breakout postseason entering the WCWS. In six prior NCAA games, the junior was 5-1 and had given up only two runs. But Tennessee ended her sterling run, scoring six runs (two earned) on six hits to force Torrence from the game after only 2.1 innings.
  • The 10 runs by Tennessee were the most in a WCWS game in program history.
  • Rogers gave up two runs on three hits in her WCWS debut. The graduate senior had only one strikeout with three walks in 4.0 IP to improve to 19-1.
  • The win was the first for Tennessee at the WCWS since 2013.

Player of the Game

Rylie West, Tennessee

The junior finished 2 for 3 with three RBI and two runs scored. She delivered the closing blow with a three-run home run in the fourth inning. West extended her hitting streak to eight straight games.

Web Gem

Cahalan prevented the Tide from likely being run-ruled by making a great snag in shallow left field with the bases loaded in the fifth innning for the final out.

Up Next

  • Tennessee advances to the winners’ bracket to play No. 1 Oklahoma on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET (ABC)
  • Alabama falls into the losers’ bracket and plays No. 9 Stanford on Friday in an elimination game at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)