Friday didn’t start well for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team, and things only got worse from there.
The Lady Mocs (42-13) managed only one hit and an unearned run in a 4-1 loss to Memphis in the opening game of the Tuscaloosa Regional in the NCAA tournament.
Two of UTC’s top hitters, second baseman Tiffany Baker and designated player Michelle Fuzzard, were sick when they woke up Friday morning, and each had to take fluids by intravenous injection before the game.
“You know things are going to go bad when you start off the morning with your top two hitters in the hospital with IVs,” UTC coach Frank Reed said following the loss. “We started thinking about those two kids being sick and worrying about them. I think we got caught up in that.”
Baker and Fuzzard both were able to play despite their illness, and Baker recorded the Lady Mocs’ lone hit, a double to left center field to set up the team’s only run when Tigers shortstop Heather Mott committed two errors on a ground ball by Vivian Morimoto.
Memphis starter Carly Hummel used her rise ball to keep the Lady Mocs off balance the rest of the way. She struck out five and walked three to pick up her 21st win of the season.
“She is definitely one of the top pitchers in this regional,” Baker said. “She has a good rise ball. She knows how to keep you off balance, and we did not adjust well at all.”
Senior center fielder Lyndsey Stiles was hit by a pitch to lead off the first inning for UTC, and she stole third for her 34th stolen base of the season before being stranded.
UTC senior pitcher Nikki Waters worked out of trouble in the first two innings, but she gave up four runs in the third inning before being replaced by Kandice Irwin, who finished the game.
Waters allowed six hits and struck out five in 2 2/3 innings, while Irwin gave up seven hits but struck out four to hold the Tigers scoreless the rest of the way. The 13 Memphis hits were the most allowed by the Lady Mocs this season.
Two Chattanooga-area players had big days for the Tigers (36-12) in Friday’s win.
Former Gordon Lee standout Maddie McKinley was 2-for-4, and GPS alum Kamri Chester was 2-for-4 and knocked in the Tigers’ first two runs with a bases-loaded single in the four-run third inning.
“It felt really good to actually break through and get a solid, hard contact hit, and it just kept rolling after that,” Chester said. “We just kept hitting and getting on top of things. It felt really good.”
Mott also was 2-for-4 for Memphis, and Lalani Bernardino was 4-for-4 in the win.
The loss puts UTC on the brink of elimination from the regional. They will be back in action at 4:40 EDT today against Jackson State, which lost to Alabama 8-0 in five innings in the second game Friday at Rhoads Stadium. Jackie Traina threw a no-hitter for the Crimson Tide with nine strikeouts.
If the Lady Mocs beat Jackson State, they will play at 7 tonight against the loser of the 2 p.m. game between Alabama and Memphis for a chance to play for the regional title on Sunday.
Reed said he believes the Lady Mocs will bounce back and show the form that helped them win the Southern Conference regular-season and tournament championships.
“I think we will [respond tomorrow],” he said. “Obviously the team we put on the field today is not the team we have put on the field for the past 42 wins.”
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 ...