Photo Courtesy: UA Athletics (Gunnar Rathbun)
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (Univ. of Ark.) - The No. 25 University of Arkansas softball team heads to No. 2 Tennessee for a weekend series against the Volunteers. Game one is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday and will be available on WatchESPN.com.
Arkansas (30-17, 8-10) comes into the weekend as the No. 25 team in the ESPN/USA Softball poll. This is the first time in program history that the Razorbacks have been ranked in a major poll. The ranking comes as a result of eight ranked wins this season.
"It is a great feeling and I am proud for our players," head coach Mike Larabee said. "Our players have worked really hard to earn a ranking, they deserve it. They have worked really hard with Todd Barbour, our strength coach, and on the field to earn this."
The Razorbacks swept No. 22 Georgia for the first time in school history to start the success against ranked teams. This was the first time the Razorbacks had swept a ranked team since 2000. The team followed the sweep with a game two win versus No. 13 LSU on April 6. The Hogs collected wins number five and six against ranked teams at No. 8 Missouri on April 13 and 14. Both wins against No. 8 Missouri were in extra-innings and these were the first back-to-back wins for the Hogs in extra-innings since 2004. The Razorbacks picked up two wins versus No. 17 Kentucky last weekend to push their season total to eight.
"This gets you battle tested for postseason play," Larabee said. "We need to keep polishing things up. Everyone on our team has something that they can work on."
This weekend Arkansas visits Tennessee and will face its seventh ranked team in as many weeks. The Volunteers are currently riding a 19-game win streak into this weekend. The 'Vols have used a balanced attack of hitting and pitching to earn a 42-6 record and a 15-3 mark in the SEC. The team is led in hitting by its stud-senior, Raven Chavanne. She leads the SEC with a .487 average. Not far behind with a third place average (.439) in the SEC is her teammate Lauren Gibson. Gibson went 9-for-11 last week and belted five homeruns and three doubles. She finished the week with 18 RBI. Tennessee is ranked second in the SEC this season with a .347 team average.
"They are an outstanding program," Larabee said. "They are the full-meal deal. The Volunteers hit, play great defense and have excellent speed. They are a very talented team and we are going to have to play great softball to win the series this weekend."
During the three-game series at Tennessee, sophomore Devon Wallace will try to make history. She has earned an NCAA-leading 64 walks this season and is three walks away from breaking the SEC single-season record of 66. Earlier this season Wallace broke the UA career record of 103 walks, previously held by Sandra Smith, who walked 103 times in her four seasons. The Double Oak, Texas native is second in the nation with a .631 on base percentage. She is a Top 25 finalist for the USA Softball Player of the Year award this season after being named the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2012.
"Devon is having a spectacular year," Larabee said. "She has great plate-discipline. Devon trusts her teammates to hit behind her if she walks. If they do pitch to her, she will usually barrel it up and hit it. She is also playing great defensively this year and only has one error in SEC play."
After the final road trip to Tennessee, Arkansas returns home for its final three-game series of the season. The Hogs host the Auburn Tigers at Bogle Park. Game one is slated for Friday 6 p.m.