Banner year for Lady Vols ends with a 51-10 record

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee coach Karen Weekly congratulates Zaida Puni after Puni's home run to center field provided the Lady Vols a 1-0 lead in the first inning of Monday night's semifinal in the Women's College World Series. The Lady Vols would be eliminated by Florida State 5-1.

Tennessee had a loud start Monday night in the Women's College World Series against Florida State, but it went silent from there.

A memorable season for the Lady Vols came to a close with a 5-1 loss to the Seminoles in Oklahoma City, setting the stage for an Oklahoma-Florida State best-of-three championship series that begins Wednesday. Oklahoma and FSU handed Tennessee its only postseason losses of a 51-10 year that included Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament titles.

"I'm just so grateful for this team," Lady Vols coach Karen Weekly said. "They're the kind of team that you live to coach. They have made this such a joyful, joyful year for me, our entire staff and for each other. All I feel tonight is gratitude."

After Kiki Milloy hit a hard liner to shortstop in Tennessee's first at-bat of the night, Zaida Puni launched a home run to center field to give the Lady Vols a 1-0 lead. It was the sixth home run of the NCAA tournament for Puni, which leads every player in the field.

Tennessee's advantage was short-lived, however, after Michaela Edenfield opened the second inning with a homer to left-center and Bethaney Keen opened the third with a homer to right-center as the Seminoles took a 2-1 lead. Both homers came off of senior Payton Gottshall, who was pulled after 45 pitches and seven outs and replaced by freshman Karlyn Pickens.

When Pickens allowed runners on first and second with one out in the top of the fifth inning, Weekly opted for fifth-year senior Ashley Rogers, who threw 136 pitches in Sunday night's 3-1 win over Oklahoma State. Rogers recorded the second out, but then Jahni Kerr blooped a single into center field that scored Autumn Belviy for a 3-1 FSU lead.

The Seminoles inserted star reliever Kathryn Sandercock, who retired Milloy, Puni and McKenna Gibson in the bottom of the fifth, with Puni and Gibson striking out swinging. Hallie Wacaser's two-run home run to left off Rogers in the sixth made it a 5-1 game.

"All three of our pitchers tonight have done amazing things this year," Weekly said. "Tonight was just a night that didn't go our way."

Contact David Paschall at [email protected].