AUSTIN (KXAN) — When the Texas Longhorns softball team heads to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Lady Volunteers, they’ll face one of the country’s most feared hitters and stingiest pitchers.
Lady Vols outfielder Kiki Milloy, daughter of 15-year NFL veteran defensive back Lawyer Milloy, leads Division I with 25 home runs and a slugging percentage of 1.013, meaning she has more total bases (152) than at-bats (150) this season. She’s fourth in on-base percentage at .580 and has stolen 37 bases, 11th in Division I, so she impacts the game everywhere she goes.
MORE THAN THE SCORE: Stay up to date on sports stories like these, and sign up for our More than the Score sports newsletter at kxan.com/newsletters
In the circle, Lady Vols pitcher Ashley Rogers is third in Division I with a 0.73 ERA in 124.1 innings this season. Both players have helped the Lady Vols to a 44-8 record this season, and if the Longhorns want to go on a run like last year’s — all the way to the championship series of the Women’s College World Series — they’ll have to take out one of the best teams in the country.
“Tennessee is tough and athletic, and Kiki Milloy is special,” Longhorns head coach Mike White said. “We have to make sure we are pitching carefully and pick certain situations to go at her. Hopefully, we can get some runs and be able to challenge her a little bit, otherwise we’ll have to pitch around her a little bit.”
As a team, the Lady Vols trail only Oklahoma with a .428 on-base percentage and they are fourth in ERA at 1.52. Tennessee is a complete team and Texas will need to play their best to get by them.
“They’re kind of like half an Oklahoma, really,” Whiter said. “If you look at Oklahoma and divide them into two. They have some real speed … so they’re able to get you in a few different ways. They’re very much like a team we had a few years ago during the 2020 season with some good, deep pitching as well.”
Senior outfielder Alyssa Popelka, who was on last year’s squad that was unseeded heading into the tournament and played Oklahoma for the national title, said the team has to take things as they come against such a strong opponent like the Lady Vols.
“I think we are just locked in into finding a way to advance runners and know what the situation is rather than just trying to get a base hit,” she said. “We are all trying to work together, and everyone knows what they need to do.”
Texas redshirt freshman Ashton Maloney, who leads the team with a .392 batting average said the Lady Vols’ pitchers have her full attention.
“They have some pretty good pitchers between (Karlyn) Pickens and (Ashley) Rogers and (Payton) Gottshall,” she said. “I mean, those are three good arms right there. I look forward to facing them this weekend. I’m excited.”
Maloney said a team-first mindset has helped the Longhorns succeed this season, and as long as they’re able to continue to do that, they’ll give themselves a chance to win.
“Just sticking to the gameplan and knowing what we are wanting to accomplish during each at-bat,” she said. “Like, if there’s a runner on third, trying to score the run rather than trying to do too much.”
The teams were supposed to play each other in the season-opening NFCA Division I Leadoff Classic tournament, but rain in the Clearwater, Florida area on Feb. 11 washed the game out.
The first game of the best-of-three series is at 3 p.m. Friday from Sherri Parker Lee Stadium. It will be broadcast on ESPN2.