'Special K’ Karlyn is Pulverizing SEC Bats - TribPapers

‘Special K’ Karlyn is Pulverizing SEC Bats

Karlyn Pickens is an instant UT star. Photo By Andrew Ferguson of Tennessee Athletics.

Knoxville, TN – Karlyn Pickens of Weaverville is continuing her softball mound mastery, winning games with shutouts and mowing down SEC hitters as a star freshman Tennessee Volunteer pitcher.

The North Buncombe alumnus is amassing wins, strikeouts and awards. She was named the Division I Softball Pitcher of the Week and SEC Player of the Week, both for the week ending March 19 when she beat LSU on two consecutive days (the second with 1.2 innings in relief). She won the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week award in each of the three prior weeks, becoming the first three-time Lady Vol winner of that honor, according to UTsports.com.

Pickens is 6-2 on the season entering this week. She had a stingy 0.47 earned run average and 52 strikeouts versus merely seven walks in her first 44.4 innings to average more than one strikeout per frame. That was before her 4-2 loss to Alabama on Saturday. Opponents batted an anemic .094 against her, before Saturday when she finally gave up a home run.

She feels immense satisfaction to prove herself to coaches, teammates and opponents and to have such immediate success individually and especially for the team. Volunteer teammates figuratively and literally look up to Pickens. At six-feet-one, she is the tallest of the 24 softball Vols.


The flame-thrower hurled complete-game shutouts in five of her first six starts, including to beat two ranked Tiger squads. Pickens threw a four-hitter to edge fifth-ranked Clemson 1-0 on Feb. 25. She struck out eight and walked none. On March 18, she blanked LSU 3-0 on a one-hitter and fanned nine Tigers.

Pickens pitched a perfect game (with no baserunners) on March 5, beating Appalachian State 8-0. Her defensive gem helped preserve her 1-0 victory over Ole Miss on March 11. Pickens stabbed a sharp grounder to her left near the mound, and threw out the batter at first base.

Hitters swing much faster at the major collegiate level than in high school. That makes Picken’s continued success all the more impressive. The sleek, long-limbed star is even stronger now. She is refining her full, smooth motion ever more.

Her scorching, under-handed rising fastball regularly clocks in at 72-73 mph. That equates to a baseball pitch in the upper nineties. So far, she peaked at 74 mph in beating LSU. Pickens essentially air-conditions fans, whenever her blazing pitches breeze by batters.

Title Contenders

Tennessee (26-2) is ranked second nationally and leads the SEC at 7-1. The Lady Vols won 20 straight softball games before losing Saturday, including nine shutouts in a row. They outscored foes 147-7 and averaged 7.7 runs in the win streak. Their six-starter rotation leads the nation with an amazing 0.62 ERA. Vol pitchers have thrown seven-inning shutouts in two-thirds (17 of 26) of their triumphs, including five one-hitters.

Karlyn Pickens is amassing many UT victories, strikeouts, and awards in her first collegiate season. Photo provided.
Karlyn Pickens is amassing many UT victories, strikeouts, and awards in her first collegiate season. Photo provided.

Pickens is integral to this pitching dominance. She and teammate Ashley Rogers (10-0) are tied in ERA, rank 1-2 in the team’s wins and innings pitched, and are tied atop the staff with 13 appearances. Rogers is a graduate student. They both get into at least parts of nearly half of the Vols’ first 28 contests. Pickens is versatile, splitting her appearances as a starter and reliever. She has one save – against Illinois.

Tennessee won two of three versus 13th-ranked Alabama – winning the opener 5-1 on Friday. On that same night, Alabama’s top-ranked men’s basketball team was upset in NCAA “March Madness.”

Hawkish Prowess

Generational talent Pickens struck out 402 batters in 175 innings as a NBHS Lady Black Hawk senior a year ago. “Special K” averaged more than two strikeouts per three-out inning. She walked merely 34 hitters. Pickens was 22-1 with a minuscule 0.22 ERA before the 3A state finals. She started both finals games, yielding a total of one earned run. She struck out 13 batters, then 14 in the finale.

Pickens was rated by Extra Inning Softball as the nation’s second-best softball pitcher and fifth-best overall high school player in 2022. She led the Hawks with a .487 average and 24 stolen bases entering state finals. She is strictly a pitcher for UT. She got to wear her usual number 23.

North Buncombe was the state runner-up for the first time in program history, was the West Region’s third seed, and beat five teams to reach the state finals. Most players returned for the current spring season.

UT Scholar, Teammate

Pickens keeps excelling in her studies as well. She made the dean’s list for having a GPA of 3.5 or better in her first semester.

Karlyn gets much support and encouragement. Her parents, Phillip and Rebecca Ward Pickens, attend many Vol softball contests. Mrs. Pickens regularly alerts people about Vols’ softball games on Facebook. Many of Karlyn’s recent NBHS teammates and others in the Weaverville community respond with comments filled with pride.

Lady Vol softball players “spend almost an hour after each game just talking and stretching,” Mrs. Pickens found out. “Then, they have to clean their own uniforms.” Such tasks are worthwhile, to get to play for an elite athletic program.

Also, the girls bond more. Karlyn Pickens fits in well, with her jovial, confident, and optimistic nature. Her mother remarked, “I love how she’s always smiling.”