It wasn't pretty and it wasn't easy, but the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team managed to get a pair of Southern Conference wins Friday, beating Elon 14-11 and 4-3 in opening a three-game series.
It took 3 hours and 15 minutes to complete the seven-inning opener, and the two games combined lasted almost five and a half hours.
With with seemed to be a small strike zone for home plate umpire Robert Guest in the first game, the two starting pitchers -- UTC's Taylor Deason and Elon's Erin O'Shea -- combined for 13 walks, and neither made it past the second inning.
"The [strike zone] was a little off today, but it was off for both teams," UTC catcher Vivian Morimoto said. "It kind of helped the batters, but it didn't help the pitchers very much because they couldn't hit their spots."
While the first game appeared to be an offensive battle on the scoreboard, the high run total was primarily the result of defensive mistakes and the walks. It took almost two hours to play two innings.
Deason allowed five runs -- but none earned -- with two hits and six walks over 1 1/3 innings before being relieved by senior Michelle Fuzzard (8-6), who pitched the final 5 1/3 innings and gave up six runs, two earned.
Freshman center fielder Cheyenne Willis led the offense for UTC in the opener, going 4-for-5 with two RBIs and scoring five runs.
"I've been off on my hitting lately, and I feel more comfortable slapping when I'm not seeing the ball as well," Willis said. "Coach [Frank] Reed told me to slap today, and that seemed to work a lot better."
Morimoto went 3-for-3 with five RBIs, and shortstop Jessica Traxler had three RBIs in game one. Fuzzard scored three times but had only one official at-bat. She walked eight times in the doubleheader.
The teams had a scary moment in the sixth inning when junior second baseman Sara Poteat collided with Elon batter-runner Johanna Spencer while trying to catch a pop-up on the first-base line. They hit at full speed and both had to leave the game after spending several minutes on the ground being attended to by the training staff.
Poteat started the second game but was replaced by Ninjja Suetsugu early in the game because of swelling in her ankle.
"We know what we have to do, and Ninjja did a good job in the infield today backing [Poteat] up," Willis said. "If we have her that's great, but if not we've got her back and I know she'll be there supporting us while we're playing."
In the second game, UTC's Deason (14-7) found the strike zone more to her liking, allowing only one walk while striking out seven to pick up the win.
Traxler was 2-for-3 and right fielder Stephanie Rieck had a two-run single to give UTC a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning. The Lady Mocs looked sluggish in the second game and allowed Elon to retake the lead on two errors in the fifth inning.
"The baseball gods helped us today because it wasn't a really good game from us," Morimoto said. "The first game took so long and we were just exhausted -- not from running or anything, but we were just bored from being here so long."
But UTC won the game on some mistakes by Elon in the bottom of the seventh. Layne Rainey reached on a passed-ball strikeout to open the inning and scored, and Willis reached on an error and scored the winning run from third when Elon first baseman Sarah Little dropped a slow grounder off the bat of Morimoto.
"I honestly did not know she dropped the ball," Willis said. "I was running and hit the plate and didn't even see her drop the ball. But we were ecstatic to get the win."
UTC (22-13, 7-2 SoCon) will try to finish the sweep today with the series finale starting at 1 p.m.
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 ...