Today, Statesboro, Ga.
10 a.m. — Furman vs. Western Carolina
noon — College of Charleston vs. Elon
2 p.m. — UTC vs. Furman-Western Carolina winner
5 p.m. — Appalachian State vs. Samford
7 p.m. — Georgia Southern vs. UNC Greensboro
It’s been a year, but the pain hasn’t gone away.
Last season, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team entered the 2010 Southern Conference tournament as the No. 1 seed after winning a league-record 19 games. The Lady Mocs were the clear favorites, and the tournament was in Chattanooga on their home field.
But tournament play is different, and the Lady Mocs lost their first two games and the season was suddenly over, leaving them stunned.
As UTC prepares to open play in this year’s SoCon tournament today at Georgia Southern in Statesboro, Ga., those losses last May still weigh on the minds of some of the players.
Senior third baseman Tiffany Baker remembers the sting, and even now it’s not a laughing matter.
“We always joke around on this team, but that is something we don’t joke about,” she said. “And we won’t joke about it until we’ve won this tournament.
“That feeling was awful. I’ve never felt that way, and I never want to feel that way again.”
UTC is in a similar position this season after going 38-12 and breaking its record with 20 SoCon victories. The Lady Mocs are the regular-season champions for the fifth consecutive season and are the top seed in the tournament, but they want to make sure things go better in tournament play this year.
“I think that we have a point to prove this year,” said junior pitcher and designated hitter Michelle Fuzzard, who was named SoCon player of the year Monday. “And that’s that we are No. 1, we’re going to stay No. 1 and don’t get in our way, because we’re going to have something to say about it.”
Fuzzard was forced to watch last year’s tournament losses from the dugout after missing most of last season with a knee injury that required surgery.
“It still hurts when you’re sitting there and you feel pretty helpless not being able to help your team out,” she said. “But I learned a lot from sitting there listening to coaches and watching my team ... and I’m looking forward to putting that on the field.”
Fuzzard’s return to the lineup certainly has helped the Lady Mocs this season. She leads the team with a .418 batting average and has knocked in a SoCon-record 67 runs, followed closely by Baker with 56 RBIs. Baker's 15 home runs are a UTC record.
The Lady Mocs are averaging more than six runs per game, and except for being swept in three games at the College of Charleston, they have been unstoppable in conference play.
But all the success in the regular season won’t help UTC the next few days. All that matters now is winning the tournament and earning a bid to an NCAA regional.
“Good teams have short memories of good and bad, and I think you need to let it all go,” Fuzzard said. “It’s 0-0 heading into this tournament, and it doesn’t matter that we won conference.”
UTC coach Frank Reed knows his team again will be the one to beat this weekend, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Teams get up for us, and we expect that,” he said. “But we don’t want to be in any other position. We don’t want to be the team trying to knock someone off; we want teams to be trying to knock us off.”
A big difference this year is that UTC will be trying to win the championship on another team’s field. But Baker said that can be an advantage.
“I personally like playing on the road, because there’s one goal and there’s nothing to distract you,” she said. “You’re at the field and with your team. You go to dinner with your team; you eat lunch with your team; you have breakfast with your team. It’s all about your team.”
Senior center fielder Lyndsey Stiles said she has confidence the Lady Mocs won’t stumble in the tournament this time.
“This team is completely different from last year’s team,” she said. “This is the most consistently strong team that I’ve ever played on.
“As a senior, we don’t want it to end the way it ended for last year’s seniors. But we know that we’re so good and at a peak now, so we’re not thinking about playing [not to] lose. We’re thinking that we’ll play our game and no one will beat us.”
Starting first baseman Kasey Tydinco is listed as day-to-day with a shoulder injury for today’s tournament opener against either Furman or Western Carolina.
Tydingco, a sophomore from Fairfield, Calif., is batting .305 with five home runs and 30 RBIs and was selected to the all-conference second team. She tweaked her shoulder last week and was held out of Sunday’s regular-season finale against Western Carolina.
Jim Tanner has worked as assistant sports editor at the Times Free Press since late 2006. He started at the Times Free Press in 2001 and worked as a news copy/design editor from 2001 through 2006. In addition to working as a night and weekend editor producing local and national sports coverage for print and online readers, Jim occasionally writes local sports and outdoors stories. Jim grew up in Ringgold, Ga., and is a graduate ...