It was an emotional day for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team as its six seniors took the field for their last home games at Jim Frost Stadium in Sunday's doubleheader against Georgia Southern, but the end result was the same as it has been for the past four seasons.
The Lady Mocs (35-12, 17-3 SoCon) swept the Eagles, winning 7-4 and 5-3, to wrap up the three-game weekend sweep and clinch their fifth consecutive Southern Conference regular season championship. Prior to the doubleheader, Tiffany Baker, Lauren Flores, Della Harrison, Kandice Irwin, Lyndsey Stiles and Nikki Waters were honored along with their families.
"It's good because we won and we clinched [conference]," Stiles said. "And it was emotional, but we made it through and did what we were supposed to do and won. And that's what we were ultimately wanting to accomplish on our day."
Baker, a two-time all-conference first team selection, provided the offensive power in the first win. She had an RBI single to give the Lady Mocs the lead in the third inning, and she hit a three-run home run in the fourth inning.
The home run was her 15th of the season, breaking the UTC single-season mark that Baker reached last season shared with Angela Brewer (2001). The blast over the fence in left center also was her 47th career home run, extending her UTC and SoCon career record.
Baker, who played high school softball at East Ridge, finished 3-for-4, and Sara Poteat and Jessica Traxler each had two hits in the win.
Waters pitched a complete game and struck out six to pick up her ninth win of the season in game one, but she said she was not happy with the two home runs she allowed to GSU's Hanna Ennis and Marie Fogle.
"I was happy with it because we won, but I feel like the hits could have been down a little more," she said. "But overall it was great."
Waters, a former Soddy-Daisy standout who played two seasons at Southern Illinois before transferring to UTC, said she was too focused on her pitching to think about Sunday being her final home games at Frost Stadium.
"I'm excited, but I don't think it's hit me that this is my last year," she said. "It probably will when it's over, but I'm just focused on playing because I want [this season] to be the best."
In game two, juniors Traxler and Michelle Fuzzard knocked in all five of the Lady Mocs' runs in the fourth inning. After Traxler's three-run home run got the Lady Mocs on the board, UTC took advantage of a miscue by Georgia Southern to extend the lead.
With two outs, Poteat hit a slow roller down the third-base line that appeared to be rolling foul but was picked up in fair territory by Georgia Southern third baseman Andrea Tarashuk.
Poteat reached first base safely on the play, and Fuzzard hit the next pitch over the fence in right center to put UTC ahead 5-0.
Poteat, Fuzzard and Traxler each went 2-for-3 in the second game.
Irwin, usually used as a relief pitcher, got the start and pitched five innings to get her tenth win of the season. She gave up nine hits but only three runs, two earned, before handing the game to Fuzzard, who pitched the final two innings to earn the save.
"It's different," Irwin said of getting the start. "But I feel like whatever they need me to do that's what I'm going to do. I used to be a starter, so it was nice to go back to what I used to do and for Senior Day of course."
Irwin said that she and her teammates were excited to get the wins Sunday and clinch another SoCon championship on their home field, but she is focusing on getting better for the final regular-season series this weekend at Western Carolina and moving on to postseason play at the conference tournament May 11-14 in Statesboro, Ga.
"The more [conference titles we win] the more excited we get," she said. "We have one more weekend, so we don't want to lose focus but just keep our momentum going to next weekend and into the tournament."
But it was also a day for the six seniors to celebrate their accomplishments and reflect on their time at UTC. Stiles, who stole her 31st base of the season in the first game Sunday, has fond memories of the time she's spent playing at Frost Stadium and with the Lady Mocs.
"I was the girl who carried the flag out when they first opened Frost Stadium [in 1998]," the former Soddy-Daisy player said. "So I've played here since I was like 7 years old. As soon as I got [to UTC] I knew that this was the best decision for me.
"My whole experience here has been awesome. School, softball, coaching, the girls - everything has been awesome. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat."