Seniors fall short of second WCWS but restored Tennessee softball to 'program of greatness'

Tennessee head coach Karen Weekly hugs Tennessee outfielder Kiki Milloy (9) after an NCAA super regional game between Tennessee and Alabama at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium in Knoxville, TN, Sunday, May 26, 2024. Alabama defeated Tennessee 4-1.

Kiki Milloy stepped to the plate in the seventh inning with the bases loaded. Tennessee softball trailed by three and there were two outs. Everyone at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium was on their feet.

Of course, it came down to this. The fifth-year senior centerfielder who changed the trajectory of the program controlled the fate of the season. It would either be the most epic win of Milloy's career or a heartbreaking end.

A storybook ending wasn't in the cards for Tennessee, though, and Milloy grounded out to end the game. The No. 3 seed Lady Vols (44-12) fell 4-1 to No. 14 seed Alabama (38-18) in the third game of the NCAA super regional, falling short of a second straight trip to the Women's College World Series.

"Postseason is a time when – if you stumble at the wrong time, no matter how good you've been consistently over the year, it can bite you," Tennessee coach Karen Weekly said.

UT had won every series in conference play en route to its second straight SEC regular-season title, which included beating Alabama on the road.

But in a series with some of the best pitchers in the nation, the Lady Vols appeared to be on their way to Oklahoma City in Game 2. They had more than enough chances during the longest game in super regional history Saturday that lasted 14 innings, only to lose 3-2.

Milloy and senior outfielder Rylie West felt the same sting two years ago when Tennessee lost in regionals for the second straight year. Weekly saw a "real sense of resolve" last season that it wouldn't happen again, and they took the program to another level the last two seasons.

The Lady Vols won back-to-back SEC regular-season championships for the first time. They swept the SEC titles last season and made a run to the WCWS semifinal. They fell short of another run at the national championship this season, but Weekly said the seniors restored Tennessee to one of the nation's elite and to "a program of greatness."

"They will forever go down as one of the greatest classes in the history of Tennessee softball," Weekly said. "This program has a great tradition and a great legacy, and they have etched their names firmly as a part of that."

Milloy and West were the only two seniors to start their careers in Knoxville. Zaida Puni, Payton Gottshall, Giulia Koutsoyanopulos and Ryleigh White were transfers the last three years. Tennessee is losing six seniors, five of them starters. None were more impactful than Milloy, who leaves after breaking multiple season and career program records.

"Look at what she's done in her time here – she is absolutely phenomenal," West said of Milloy. "She drives and pushes this team, and we couldn't have accomplished half of what we did without her."

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Tennessee has four rising seniors, eight rising juniors, four rising sophomores and a seven-player incoming freshman class ranked No. 4 in the nation. UT has seven returning starters, including SEC Pitcher of the Year Karlyn Pickens.

West called the core group of returners special. They're the ones who brought the fire to the program last season. They pushed the upperclassmen to heights they had never reached before, West said, and she has no doubt that "this is just the beginning for them."

"I think they're going to take this and they're just going to run with it," Milloy said. "They're not going to feel this way again ... I just have a ton of faith that they're gonna carry this program back to where it needs to go."

Cora Hall covers University of Tennessee women’s athletics. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @corahalll. If you enjoy Cora’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that allows you to access all of it.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee softball seniors restored Lady Vols to 'program of greatness'