Softball seizes top win; basketball starts postseason

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports

The softball team played five games at home spread over three days because of bad weather and then made a trip to No. 10/11 Clemson with no break in between and went 6-0 over the stretch.

Rain has seemed to follow the team – minus a trip to sunny California – to start the season and when bad weather postponed all games Friday in the Tennessee Classic, Longwood stayed an extra day in Knoxville so it could still play five games. The tourney finished Monday afternoon instead of Sunday – the Lady Vols beat Brown and Stetson and Longwood twice – and then headed south for a top 10 matchup against Clemson on Tuesday.

That game needed extra action to decide the outcome with Tennessee prevailing 2-1 in nine innings. Pitcher Payton Gottshall started the game, left with the score tied at 1-1 after three innings, and Karlyn Pickens entered the circle and kept the Tigers off the scoreboard for six innings.

After two groundouts to start the ninth inning, Rylie West drew a walk, and Sophia Nugent, a junior catcher who transferred last summer from Oklahoma to Tennessee, doubled to bring home West who bolted from first on contact with two outs.

Shawn Nugent, the father of catcher Sophia Nugent traveled from Seal Beach, California, to see his daughter play fall ball in 2023 for Tennessee.

Pickens, a sophomore from Weaverville, North Carolina, has developed into an ace for Tennessee and recorded a strikeout against Clemson with a wicked changeup. That’s an important pitch because Pickens can throw heat – as a freshman she hit 76 miles per hour (mph), the softball equivalent of 106 mph in baseball – and off-speed will keep batters off balance to say the least.

Pickens is now 8-2 on the season and the losses came to No. 2 Texas and No. 16 UCLA. This story HERE by Extra Inning Softball outlines how Tennessee was Pickens’ dream school, and she committed on the first day coaches could reach out directly to high school juniors despite having contact from schools in every Power 5 conference coast to coast. Pickens had attended softball camps at Tennessee, and former Lady Vol Monica Abbott was her role model as a pitcher.

The clip below shows the changeup against Clemson and the celebration with Nugent.


It’s also worth noting that the Guinness Book of World Records credits Abbott with the fastest recorded softball pitch ever at 77 mph on June 16, 2012, in a National Pro Fastpitch game. That came five years after Abbott left college – pitchers can get even stronger and better post-college as they mature and focus solely on their craft – so Pickens has a shot at claiming that record and could even do so at Tennessee.

No. 8/9 Tennessee is now 14-4 on the season and already has a signature top 10 win on the road in March and two top 15 wins on the road in February at No. 14 Baylor.

The Lady Vols will be at home March 8-10 for the Tennessee Invitational against Missouri State, South Dakota and Ohio State in a bracket format.

BASKETBALL: It took until the last day of the season to resolve seeding in the SEC tourney, and Tennessee came up one win short of a double bye.  The Lady Vols and Alabama finished tied for fourth in the SEC, and the Crimson Tide secured the No. 4 seed based on its regular season win. Tennessee landed as the No. 5 seed.

The Lady Vols will get started this Thursday, March 7, at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina, at approximately 2:15 p.m. with the broadcast on the SEC Network and will take on the winner of No. 12 Kentucky vs. No. 13 Georgia. That game will be played at 11 a.m. today, Wednesday, March 6. Thursday’s winner will play No. 4 seed Alabama at approximately 2:15 p.m. on Friday, March 8.

A full bracket is available HERE. (It lists times as 2:30, but it’s not unusual for a slightly earlier start for the second game of a session so be prepared.)

Tamari Key, Rickea Jackson, Tess Darby and Jasmine Powell walk on the court during the final home game of the 2023-24 regular season. (UT Athletics)

Without the double bye, Tennessee will arrive a day earlier than last year and get the chance to scout Wednesday’s game.

“It changes your prep,” Tennessee coach Kellie Harper said. “You might have had an extra day off this week, but now you don’t. Wednesday will be a long day because you have media obligations, we’re going to be watching a game, and we’ll have our own practice. It’s a lot that happens on Wednesday for us now.

“And then you can’t skip steps. You cannot play on Friday, unless you win on Thursday, so the focus really, really has to be on game one.”

Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at MoxCar Marketing + Communications since 2013, started her journalism career at the Knoxville News Sentinel and began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press.



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