The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team is in the Southern Conference tournament championship game. And unfortunately for the rest of the SoCon, the Lady Mocs appear to be getting better with each game in the tournament in Statesboro, Ga.
UTC pounded UNC Greensboro 13-0 in the winners-bracket final Friday and plays today at 1:30 p.m. for the title, having to lose twice.
The regular-season champions took a 1-0 lead in the first inning and blew the game open with a four-run sixth inning and a seven-run seventh.
"It's so much easier when we play like who we are and put a bunch of runs on the other team," UTC coach Frank Reed said. "Then we can go out and do what we do and make the opponent try to play catch-up."
Senior third baseman Tiffany Baker went 3-for-5 with four RBIs as the Lady Mocs (41-12) had a season-high 20 hits against the Spartans (26-30), who play this morning in the losers-bracket final.
Sophomore first baseman Kasey Tydingco showed that her sore shoulder wasn't a concern by going 4-for-4 with two RBIs, and senior outfielders Lyndsey Stiles and Lauren Flores had three hits apiece.
After Michelle Fuzzard struggled with heat earlier in the tournament, senior Nikki Waters started for the second day in a row and picked up where she left off in Thursday's two-hitter. Waters (12-3) allowed a single hit in 41/3 innings before handing the ball to fellow senior Kandice Irwin with a 2-0 lead.
"We had Michelle ready to go, and she was able to hit," Reed said. "But Nikki had done so well for us the day before that we felt like we could go back with her for another day."
Irwin allowed a couple of hits in the seventh inning when the game was out of reach before completing her seventh save of the season and the 20th of her career, fourth most in NCAA history.
In the first three games of the tournament, UTC's pitchers have allowed six hits and a single run in 21 innings.
"The last few days, the pitching has really carried us," Reed said. "We've got good pitching in Chattanooga, and those guys have gone out and proven it these past three days."
With the pitchers in a groove, the UTC offense - which started a bit slowly in the tournament - came on strong late against UNCG. The Lady Mocs stranded 12 runners in the game, including leaving the bases loaded in the first and sixth innings.
Appalachian State edged Elon 6-5 to eliminate the defending tournament champion, and College of Charleston beat Samford 8-5 to end the college career of former Tennessee Temple Academy standout Amanda Jordan. Jordan went 1-for-1 and scored a run against the Cougars a day after going 2-for-3 with a home run in Samford's 4-1 loss to UNCG. She had three RBIs in the tournament.
UNCG will face the College of Charleston, which won Friday's late game, in the losers bracket final today at 11 a.m. The winner of that game will play UTC for the championship.
"Sombody's got to beat us twice now," Reed said. "And quite honestly, I've always said, 'If you can beat us twice, you deserve to win.'
"Now I don't want that to happen and don't think that will happen ... but you just never know. We've got to come out and play good ball and see what happens."
Contact Jim Tanner at email@example.com or 423-757-6478.