University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball coach Frank Reed said that good teams find a way to win on days when they don't play well.
That was about the best that could be said following the Lady Mocs' ugly 5-3 win over Middle Tennessee State on Saturday afternoon at Jim Frost Stadium.
UTC (26-17) trailed 3-0 early, was down 3-1 heading into the sixth inning and committed five errors but took advantage of a pair of MTSU miscues in a four-run sixth to rally past the 7-39 Blue Raiders team.
Reed said he was concerned about a letdown after the Mocs' strong performance in a 9-3 Friday win over MTSU.
"I don't understand the difference between yesterday and today," Reed said. "Everyone had their families here, and they were pumped up for the holiday weekend. We're facing the same pitcher that we knocked out of the game yesterday, and we do this.
"My fears came true, and I don't like being right in a situation like this."
MTSU jumped to an early lead for the second day in a row. LaRi Mitchell scored unearned runs in the first and third innings, and the Blue Raiders added a third run on a single by Austyn Whaley in the fourth.
But unlike in Friday's game, UTC's offense was unable to get on track against MTSU starter Caitlin McClure until designated hitter Criket Blanco scored an unearned run. Even on that play, UTC squandered an opportunity as Kaiti Dutton was thrown out to end the inning trying to go from second to third.
UTC starting pitcher Taylor Deason gave up the three MTSU runs (one earned) on six hits over three innings before being relieved by sophomore Katie Henderson.
Henderson allowed no runs on one hit, but she walked three and had to work around three errors out of bases-loaded situations in the fourth and sixth innings and stranded two MTSU baserunners in the fifth.
"I believe in my teammates; they've got my back," she said. "Sometimes we make a few errors here and there, but that's part of being a team. We have each other's backs, so I just focus on getting my job done and know they'll take care of the rest."
UTC's defense resembled the team's shaky start to the season.
"We have a lot of people who are in their own heads right now," Dutton said of her teammates' struggles. "If they make an error, they need to shake it.
"We have a really young team with a young mentality, so we're trying to get them to understand that if you make an error or don't get a hit you can't let that carry on when you get back on the field."
Finally in the bottom of the sixth, UTC was able to take advantage of two errors to take the lead.
The Lady Mocs loaded the bases on a walk, two errors and a fielder's choice. First baseman Jessyln Stockard then knocked in a run with a single, and second baseman Tyler Templet walked to push in the tying run. Sarah Beth Roberts and Alyssa Taylor had RBI singles to put UTC in front.
Henderson allowed one runner to reach in the top of the seventh, but Dutton had to track down a long fly ball off the bat of Marinna Shadley to end the game.
Dutton and Nicole Osterman each had two hits, and Stockard had a pair of RBIs. After getting limited work in her first three seasons, Dutton has had a breakout senior season at the plate, starting every game thus far with a .307 batting average and a pair of home runs.
"I had to just stop caring so much and putting so much pressure on myself," she said. "I try to be a good example for the younger players to show that you can't take anything too serious.
"I seem to be more relaxed, and that seems to be working."
UTC will face a difficult trip to Geogia Southern this weekend for a crucial Southern Conference series. The league-leading Eagles are 2 1/2 games ahead of second-place UTC heading into a matchup that could determine the regular-season conference championship.
"I think that it's good that we had a game like this to get all of that out of our system and to build off of it so we can have some momentum heading into Georgia Southern," Henderson said. "I think we're going to be fine.
"I believe in all of the girls, and I think they believe in themselves and we'll be just fine."
Contact Jim Tanner at email@example.com or 423-757-6478. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.
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 ...