SEC Softball Tournament Day 4: Vols slug past Bama

By: Ethan Westerman Ethan Westerman's Twitter account , Paul Boyd
Published: Friday, May 12, 2023
Tennessee's Lair Beautae rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam against Alabama on Friday May 12, 2023, during the SEC Softball Tournament in Fayetteville.
( J.T. Wampler)
Tennessee's Lair Beautae rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam against Alabama on Friday May 12, 2023, during the SEC Softball Tournament in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Tennessee dug itself out of an early hole against Alabama in home-run-derby fashion Friday night at Bogle Park to punch its ticket to the SEC Softball Tournament championship game.

The top-seeded Lady Volunteers overcame a four-run deficit after the top of the first inning and muscled three home runs to surge past the Crimson Tide with a 7-6 semifinal victory.

“We’re just on a mission really,” said Lady Vols second baseman Lair Beautae, who hit a first-inning grand slam. “We have a plane. We have everything in order to fly the plane, and we’re just flying it. We’re trusting our process and we’re taking off with it.”

The win secured the first tournament title game berth for Tennessee (43-8) since 2015.

“I’m just really proud of our team,” Tennessee Coach Karen Weekly said. “I mean, Alabama’s a great opponent and anytime you play them, whether it’s regular season or in the tournament, you know it’s going to be a heck of a ball game.”

Alabama (40-18) was able to chase Tennessee starter Karlyn Pickens, who was named SEC freshman of the year earlier in the day, before she was able to record an out.

The Crimson Tide led off the game with back-to-back singles followed by consecutive walks to bring a run home. A wild pitch by Pickens scored a second run, and her third walk in six batters prompted a pitching change.

Lady Vols senior right-hander Payton Gottshall entered with no outs and runners at every base.

A foul popup was caught by Tennessee third baseman Zaida Puni, but she went out of play and into the dugout which negated the catch. It permitted all three runners to advance 60 feet, and with the bases loaded it added another run.

Gottshall got out of the jam with one additional run scoring due to an RBI ground out, but Alabama entered the bottom of the first inning ahead 4-0.

“I just knew I had to come in and do whatever I could to help my team get the outs,” Gottshall said.

With a swing of the bat, Beautae got all four runs back for the Lady Vols in the bottom of the inning. Tennessee loaded the bases with a double and two walks — all with two outs — as she stepped to the plate.

It took one pitch for Beautae to barrel a ball over the wall in left-center field. Her fourth home run of the season was a game-tying grand slam. She said on the ESPN2 broadcast that her affirmation is ‘I’m made for this.’

“Karen had told me my freshman year that I like to shine when the lights come on,” Beautae said. “So, I just made that my affirmation, as if like the lights are on 24-7 and I’m made for any moment I’m put in.”

Tennessee star center fielder Kiki Milloy, the nation’s home runs leader, blasted her 23rd home run in the second inning to give the Lady Vols a 5-4 advantage. Her solo shot was with two outs on a two-strike count, and it landed over the entrance fence to Bogle Park past left field.

After a scoreless third inning by both teams, Tennessee went deep again in the fourth with two outs. Following a Jamison Brockenbrough single, Lady Vols right fielder Katie Taylor shot a home run to center field. Her two-run blast put Tennessee ahead 7-4.

It was the Tide’s turn to place a ball into the berm in the fifth inning. Ashley Prange hit her third home run of the SEC Tournament, this time a two-run home run to pull Alabama within 7-6.

“The negative tonight is we out-hit them, but they got three home runs and a big one with a grand slam,” Alabama Coach Patrick Murphy said. “So, they got big hits. We didn’t get enough of them.”

Gottshall was able to recover and pitch two consecutive scoreless innings and shut the door on Alabama. She tossed a complete game with 106 pitches thrown. Gottshall allowed two runs on five hits in relief.

Weekly and the Lady Vols will seek to pad their regular-season title with the league’s postseason crown. Tennessee has won the tournament twice, last doing so in 2011.

Tennessee is scheduled to face 10th-seeded South Carolina in the championship game at 2 p.m. on ESPN. The game was originally scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. on ESPN2 but was flexed for television purposes.


Leadoff hitter Jordan Fabian hit a two-run, go-ahead home run in the top of the seventh inning to help No. 10 seed South Carolina rally for 3-2 win over Auburn at Bogle Park to advance to the SEC Softball Tournament championship game.

Reliever Donnie Gobourne (13-6) finished it off with 3 1/3 scoreless innings. The Gamecocks (37-19) had just one hit collectively through the first six innings.

Gobourne, a transfer from Florida Atlantic, allowed just two hits, struck out six and walked two.

“I’m really proud of this group,” South Carolina Coach Beverly Smith said, “They’re gritty, they believe in themselves and I love the fact that when they talk, they mention the word optimistic. It’s positive, it’s optimistic, and there’s an expectation to win.”

South Carolina took a 1-0 lead without a hit in the top of the first. Auburn bounced back to tie the game 1-1 aided by a Gamecocks’ fielding error. Second baseman Rose Roach gave Auburn a 2-1 lead after two innings on an RBI-double.

The Gamecocks (37-19) will try to become the lowest seeded team to ever win the SEC Tournament today. Auburn had beaten South Carolina two of three during the regular season.

“I think it’s the amount of heart that we have and the mentality that we have,” Goubourne said of the team’s ability to make a deep run. “Just knowing that we deserve to be here, and that we’re capable of playing and beating any team in this conference.”

Auburn starting pitcher Maddie Penta didn’t allow a hit through the first three innings. She was pulled in the top of the fourth though after issuing back-to-back walks. Reliever Shelby Lowe came on to get an infield pop-up and a fly out to strand runners at second and third and hold on to the lead.

Lowe (5-6) allowed Fabian’s home run to take the loss. She allowed 2 runs on 3 hits in 4 innings and struck out 4 and walked one.

Catcher Giulia Desiderio broke up the combined no-hitter by a pair of Auburn pitchers with a single in the sixth inning.


Ashley Rogers tossed a three-hit shutout and Kiki Milloy hit her 22nd home run to help top-seeded Tennessee blank Florida in an earlier game Friday.

It was the fourth loss in four games for Florida (36-20) against Tennessee this season.

Rogers, who improved to 16-1, scattered three hits, struck out eight and walked four for the Lady Vols. Alabama’s standout pitcher Montana Fouts left the Crimson Tide’s game against Arkansas on Thursday evening with an apparent leg injury.

Rogers, an All-SEC first-team selection announced earlier in the day, threw her sixth shutout of the season. She’s 9-0 against SEC opponents this season.

Tennessee scored a run in the bottom of the first on Lair Beautae’s two-out run-scoring single for a 1-0 advantage. Milloy added a two-run homer in the second inning. Milloy was hit by a pitch in the fourth and scored on Zaida Puni’s double to push the Lady Vols’ lead to 4-0.

Puni went 3-for-3, scored a run and drove in one for Tennessee. Milloy also scored twice. Kendra Falby accounted for two of Florida’s three hits.


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