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The Circle
Posted: Friday, May 22nd, 2015, 8:51 AM
by Alison

Cause & Effect. Action vs. Reaction. Gabriel & Gaffin. Opposites attract and compliments complete the circle for the Tennessee Lady Vols Softball team.

For the first time in five years there isn’t a Renfroe sister (Ivy and Ellen) dominating the circle for the Lady Vols. The dynamic sister duo made the Renfroe’s the most successful sisters in Tennessee athletics.

In softball you just have pitchers. There are no titles to classify a pitcher as a starter, reliever, or a closer. They are just called a pitcher. Most pitch the entire game, some pitch back-to-back games. Co-head coaches, Ralph and Karen Weekly, have transformed the circle by creating the co-circle leadership.

This season, there had to be new leaders in the circle. The duo formed organically and the magic combination of juniors Erin Gabriel and Rainey Gaffin has lifted the Lady Vols to another year of post-season play. Gabriel was the number-one recruit when the Weekly’s signed her to be a VFL (Vol For Life). Gaffin was recruited as an outfielder and understood her time in the circle would end after high school. Due to a hip injury, Gabriel had to reinvent her style from the power pitcher she was known to be and had learn how to use her hands to spin the ball without re-damaging her lower body. This was a process and now Gabriel is showing her highly recruited talent with two no-hitters and one perfect game in her first full season in the circle for the Lady Vols.

Gaffin’s energy in the circle is electric. Gabriel stays focused and in the zone. Their pitching styles are reflective of their personalities in and out of the circle. But the key to making the duo combination so dominant is the phrase that is shared between the two. Every time there is a pitching change, the ball is handed to the new pitcher coming to take over the circle. The pitcher asks the new pitcher, ‘do you have my back’? This team always has each other’s backs and they are relentless! They never stop fighting to win.

With only two seniors, Cheyanne Tarango and Tory Lewis, the young Lady Vols have the talent and leadership to make noise at the Women’s College World Series for years to come.

Tennessee won the first game in their fourth straight Super Regionals appearance against Florida State on Thursday night. One win on Friday’s scheduled doubleheader would secure the Lady Vols seventh appearance in the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

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