Tennessee softball: Three takeaways from Lady Vols’ series win vs. Mississippi State

After splitting their first two games, Tennessee softball clinched its weekend matchup against the Mississippi State Bulldogs Sunday with a dominating 10-1 victory in Knoxville, Tenn., at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium. It was fitting, as longtime coach Ralph Weekly, who retired after last year, was honored on the diamond before the final game.

A week removed from a huge series win at the Florida Gators, UT, ranked in the range of No. 11 to No. 13 depending on the service, capitalized off a six-run fourth inning on Friday to win off a run-rule. They lost 8-3 in Game 2 before dominating on Sunday.

Rocky Top improves to 25-10 and 7-4 in the SEC with a trip to the Georgia Bulldogs set for next weekend. Mississippi State falls to 24-12 and 5-4 in the SEC with a visit to the Southern Miss Golden Eagles set for Wednesday before hosting the Missouri Tigers for a three-game series next weekend. Here are three things we learned from Tennessee softball’s series win.

1. Home runs continue to be the difference.

While everybody talks about the baseball program, and for good reason, the softball program is living and dying just as much off the long ball. The Lady Vols had eight total home runs over the weekend and drove in 14 of their 22 runs off the long ball. That includes all 10 runs they scored Sunday, which were off five homers, and the other three coming Friday.

Ashley Morgan had two on Sunday, and Kelcy Leach had one on Friday and one on Sunday. Rylie West, Ivy Davis, Zaida Puni and McKenna Gibson all each had one too. West was the star of the weekend, Kiki Milloy was still a star with three stolen bases, a triple and a double, but it was the power that carried this team.

2. Ashley Rogers was elite, but she was alone among starters.

To be fair, Samantha Bender allowed no runs in nearly three innings, and Ryleigh White allowed no runs either, but she one batter. Ashley Rogers, who just came back, was the star. She won both games, allowing no runs in four innings Friday and coming in to allow no runs in three innings Sunday after Tennessee softball trailed 1-0.

Nicola Simpson had a rough weekend, allowing three runs in two innings over two games, and Bailey McCachren created the 1-0 deficit Sunday through two innings. Meanwhile, Erin Edmoundson’s Slump continued, as she allowed six runs in three innings Saturday, which lost the game. She allowed no runs in one inning Sunday, but that was still a problem.

3. Defense is much better.

This was a problem for the Lady Vols heading into SEC play. However, they were much better over the weekend on the defensive front. UT had just one error all weekend and had a .985 fielding percentage, so they went from awful to elite in just a few weeks, which is worthy of praise.

It further helped them that Mississippi State had five errors over the weekend, including four on Sunday. Of course, that didn’t matter, as Gibson had a grand slam in which all the runs were earned, and nine of the 10 runs were earned in the game. Still, Tennessee softball’s defense being the superior one is a good sign.