Softball Preview: Puerto Vallarta Challenge

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KNOXVILLE, TN - January 19, 2023 - Infielder McKenna Gibson #24 of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers portrait taken during 2023 softball Photo Day in Knoxville, TN. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico – The No. 8/9-ranked Lady Vols softball team goes international this weekend as they are set to play in the Puerto Vallarta Challenge Thursday through Saturday in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

The weekend opens with UT facing off against Sacramento State on Thursday at 9:30 p.m. ET, followed by a 1:30 p.m. first-pitch on Friday versus North Dakota State. On Saturday, Tennessee plays twice, beginning at 1:30 p.m. against Cal State Fullerton before ending the weekend with a matchup with Liberty at 7 p.m.

A full tournament schedule along with additional information about the 2023 Puerto Vallarta Challenge can be found at this LINK.

FOLLOW LIVE
Live stats will be available for each game throughout the weekend via SIDEARM Stats. All stat links can be found by visiting the Tennessee softball schedule page on UTsports.com. FloSoftball will provide streaming coverage for all games during the Puerto Vallarta Challenge.

LADY VOLS IN THE POLLS
Following a perfect 3-0 opening weekend that included a victory over No. 8 Northwestern, Tennessee leaped up the polls released earlier this week. The Lady Vols check in at No. 8 in the USA Softball poll and are 9th according to D1Softball. Softball America lists UT at No. 10, while the USA Today/NFCA poll ranks the Orange & White at No. 11.

BACK IN THE CIRCLE
Graduate Ashley Rogers was electric in the circle against Illinois and Northwestern as she punched out 18 batters over 12 innings, and picked up a pair of wins – including a complete-game shutout versus the Wildcats. She allowed just two runs and two walks over her two starts at the NFCA Leadoff Classic.

NEW BEGINNINGS
Mackenzie Donihoo, a transfer from Oklahoma, hit .714 over the first weekend and finished 5-for-7 at the plate with four runs scored, a pair of doubles and three RBIs.

Behind the dish, Giulia Koutsoyanopulos caught every game and was 3-for-7 at bat. The Arizona transfer hit .429 and scored two runs.

In the circle, Payton Gottshall – a transfer from Bowling Green – started the first game of the year for the Lady Vols against Howard. The righty tossed three innings, did not allow a hit and struck out six as she helped guide UT to its first win of the 2023 campaign.

BOO-TASTIC
Sophomore McKenna Gibson was especially effective at the plate last week as she went 4-for-7 (.571) with a pair of home runs, seven RBIs and three runs scored. She also finished with a 1.429 slugging percentage and a 2.012 OPS. The first baseman was named to the NFCA Leadoff Classic All-Tournament Team.

SCOUTING THE FIELD
Sacramento State

2023 Record: 2-3

Series Record: UT leads, 2-0

Last Meeting: Feb. 17, 2007 (W, 9-2)

Key Player/Stat: Sacramento State opened the year at the NorCal Classic, going 2-3 over five games with victories over Utah Valley and Pacific. Carley Morfey was 4-for-15 (.267) at the plate during the first weekend of the year, smacking one double and one home run. She leads Sacramento State with five RBIs.

North Dakota State

2023 Record: 1-5

Series Record: UT leads, 1-0

Last Meeting: March 15, 2015 (W, 14-3 (5))

Key Player/Stat: North Dakota State is going into its second weekend south of the border after also participating in the first weekend of the Puerto Vallarta Challenge. The Bison only won once last week – defeating California Baptist in the season opener, 4-0.

Cal State Fullerton

2023 Record: 3-2

Series Record: Tied, 3-3

Last Meeting: Feb. 25, 2014 (W, 8-4)

Key Player/Stat: Cal State Fullerton comes to Mexico with a 3-2 record – notching wins over Utah State, San Diego and California at the Easton Classic. The Lady Vols and Titans are meeting for the first time since 2014. Tennessee enters the matchup with a three-game winning streak in the series.

Liberty

2023 Record: 1-5

Series Record: UT leads, 21-1

Last Meeting: March 27, 2022 (W, 7-2)

Key Player/Stat: Despite a 1-5 record, the Flames have stood tall against some of the nation’s top teams. In its season opener, Liberty took No. 1 Oklahoma to extra innings before falling 1-0. The Flames then went to extras against No. 16 Duke – dropping that game 8-5. On Valentine’s Day, Liberty played at No. 2 UCLA, falling to the Bruins by a final score of 3-2.

UP NEXT
Tennessee goes back to Tampa, Florida, next weekend Feb. 24-26 for the USF Tournament. The Lady Vols will battle Michigan State, USF, No. 7 Clemson and UIC down in the Sunshine State.

Source: Utsports