Tennessee softball's Ashley Rogers dominates MSU in longest game in SEC Tournament history
GAINESVILLE, Florida – Mississippi State faced a familiar face in the circle Thursday – though it wasn't a welcome one.
Ashley Rogers put MSU batters through the wringer for 13 innings, which set the single-game program record for innings pitched in a game. The previous record was 11 innings, held by Ellen Renfroe, Megan Rhodes Smith and Monica Abbott. Rogers only allowed three hits in Tennessee softball's 1-0 victory in the quarterfinal, which was the longest game in SEC Tournament history.
"I was not coming out of that game," Rogers said, laughing. "You'd have to carry me off the field to come out of that game, especially just as the innings went on. I would say even more so emotionally staying in the right headspace, because it's easy to get really hyped up and ramped up when people aren't getting on base and really close counts and whatnot. I just have to stay in an emotional headspace and level to go out there and perform."
Tennessee (39-15) walked it off with Lair Beautae's first hit of the day, a single to right field that sent Rylie West home from second base. UT was able to get runners on base in every extra inning, and it looked like the Lady Vols would walk it off in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded but Annie Willis was able to strike out Amanda Ayala.
MSU was threatening to score in the top of the 13th, but Tennessee turned a double-play to crush any hopes of scoring.
"The emotions that we had, especially after that double play in the last inning, our emotions were very high," Beautae said. "That's when we knew right there, this is our game and kind of settled down."
MSU (33-24) used three pitchers, with Aspen Wesley getting the start. Kenley Hawk pitched five innings and allowed six hits. Willis closed out the game and only allowed three hits. The Bulldogs staff held strong, scattering 11 hits from an explosive Tennessee offense that beat them twice by run rule in the regular season.
Tennessee returns to the SEC Tournament semifinals for the second year in a row. The Lady Vols will face Missouri Friday (3 p.m. ET, ESPN2) after the Tigers upset No. 2 Alabama 3-0 on Thursday.
Rogers worked the Bulldogs' lineup from the jump, and it only took her 29 pitches to get through MSU's lineup in three innings. Her efficiency continued throughout the day with only 86 pitches through regulation, which allowed her to pitch the entire game. Rogers faced 43 batters and threw 161 pitches.
"Ashley has really embraced kind of a new normal and just redefining herself this season to be able to come out there and pitch for her team," Tennessee coach Karen Weekly said. "What you saw out there today is absolute brilliance, and I'm just so proud of everything she's overcome this year."
The senior had nine innings when she retired batters in order and retired 17 in a row from the fifth to ninth inning. Rogers ended with seven strikeouts in her 10th win of the season, but batters weren't getting solid contact against her in the 19 fly-outs Tennessee's defense fielded.
Earlier in the season when MSU had to face Rogers, it took two run-rule losses. Batters hit .136 against her in seven innings in those losses, only recording three hits and striking out 10 times. The Bulldogs fared even worse Thursday, hitting a combined .073.
Rogers has been sidelined for stretches this season due to injuries, but has been back in the rotation since April 20. She's increased her production with each game, pitching a perfect run-rule game against East Carolina and complete-games and wins against Ole Miss and Auburn.
The Lady Vols' explosive offense was quieter than usual. Kiki Milloy, who returned to her leadoff position, and Zaida Puni were the only players with multiple hits. Milloy went 3-for-5 with one stolen base and a walk and Puni was 2-for-5.
Tennessee left 14 runners on base and was able to get runners in scoring position in the first, fourth, sixth and ninth inning. In the first inning, two were left on base after Puni struck out and Ivy Davis' shot to left field was just short of a home run.
UT was inches from getting on the board first in the fourth inning when McKenna Gibson's hit snuck through the infield and Shakara Goodloe attempted to score from second. Goodloe was called out sliding into home, but Weekly challenged the call. On the replay, Goodloe's fingertips appeared to reach home just before the tag, but the call stood and both teams went into the fifth inning scoreless.
Tennessee hit eight homers in the regular-season series against MSU as part of 88 this season, just 12 away from the program single-season home run record of 100. But the Lady Vols didn't send any over the fence Thursday, breaking a 10-game streak with at least one home run dating back to April 20 against then-No. 3 Virginia Tech.