An early offensive outburst put the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team on track for a 10-4 win over Samford on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep in the opening weekend of Southern Conference play.
The Lady Mocs (16-5, 3-0 SoCon) broke the game open with seven runs on seven hits in the bottom of the second inning, with second baseman Sara Poteat and third baseman Tiffany Baker each having two-run hits in the inning.
UTC trailed 1-0 after Samford shortstop Amanda Jordan, a former Tennessee Temple standout, hit a solo home run in the top of the second, but Lady Mocs senior right fielder Della Harrison opened the bottom of the second with her first career triple on a deep fly ball that was misplayed by Bulldogs right fielder Aaren Fisher.
Shortstop Jessica Traxler and freshman catcher Natalie Powers followed with back-to-back doubles to give UTC the lead for good. Powers and Traxler each went 2-for-3 on Sunday, and Powers completed a breakout weekend that included her first collegiate home run on Saturday.
"I'm starting to feel more comfortable because I think the more at bats you get obviously it really helps you out," Powers said. "It's all about having confidence in yourself while you're up there."
Powers credited new UTC assistant coach Amy Herrington-Woodard with helping her approach to hitting. Herrington-Woodard said she's been working with all the Lady Mocs batters on being ready to hit when they are at the plate.
"We talk a lot about approach [at the plate]," she said following Sunday's win. "You can have all the mechanics you want, but if you don't have an idea of what you're looking for, it doesn't matter."
Senior pitcher Kandice Irwin pitched the final five innings in relief of starter Michelle Fuzzard to earn the win and improve her record to 6-1 on the season. Despite trailing on the scoreboard, Samford (3-18, 0-3) outhit UTC 12 to 11 in the game.
Jordan, who was 2-for-4 for the Bulldogs on Sunday in her final game near her home in Apison, said the Bulldogs will try to learn from the experience against UTC as they continue to improve under first-year coach Stephanie VanBrakle.
"Hopefully, we can learn and the younger players can follow on my success this weekend," she said. "Chattanooga is one of the better teams we'll play, so we will try to get better from this weekend."
Herrington-Woodard said there are little things that the Lady Mocs need to improve on to take the next step up as a team.
"I feel like we're putting the runs up and we play our game, but we still need that finishing," she said. "Those little small things on defense we have to clean up a little bit, and that's just going to polish it all off."
UTC senior center fielder Lyndsey Stiles, who went 3-for-4 in the leadoff spot Sunday with two RBIs, said the Lady Mocs wanted to send a message to the rest of the league in the opening weekend of SoCon play.
"We were ready to come out and prove that just because we were picked No. 2 in pre-season, we're not playing like it," she said. "We are No. 1 and we want to play that way, so it was definitely huge to sweep this weekend."