There were many questions about Michelle Fuzzard's softball future in early 2010 after a knee injury ended her season. After undergoing successful surgery and rehabilitation, she left no doubt this season about her recovery and her value to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Monday, Fuzzard was named Southern Conference player of the year after batting .418 with 13 home runs and setting a conference record with 67 RBIs in 50 regular-season games, and her .758 slugging percentage leads UTC. Also Monday, she was named conference player of the week for the third time this season to go with one pitcher-of-the-week honor.
"I never expected anything like this," she said Monday about the full-season honor. "But you have to credit where it's due - and that's to my teammates. I couldn't have gotten the RBIs if Sara [Poteat], Lauren [Flores] and Lyndsey [Stiles] weren't on base. It feels great, but I'm really looking forward to the [SoCon] tournament and showing what we can do."
The junior from Huntington Beach, Calif., also leads the team in pitching wins with a 16-6 record and has a 3.08 ERA in 125 innings.
Joining Fuzzard atop the conference awards list was UTC coach Frank Reed, who earned his fourth consecutive coach-of-the-year award after guiding the Lady Mocs (38-12, 20-3) to their fifth consecutive regular-season league championship. The team's 20 conference wins is the most in SoCon history, surpassing the 19 wins of last year's UTC squad.
"The ultimate goal is to win the conference, so however many wins it takes to do it," Reed said. "But to win 20 games in any conference is pretty tough.
"This is an awesome softball team. I think it's statistically the best team that's ever been here at Chattanooga."
The Lady Mocs set team team records in 2011 in home runs (52) and RBIs (322), and they lead the SoCon in every offensive category except doubles, triples and stolen bases.
They placed eight players on the all-conference teams announced Monday. Fuzzard made the first team as designated player and was joined by catcher Vivian Morimoto, third baseman Tiffany Baker, outfielder Stiles and pitcher Kandice Irwin. Sophomores Kasey Tydingco (first base) and Poteat (second base) were second-team selections, and catcher Natalie Powers made the all-freshman team.
Baker, a senior from East Ridge, set a UTC record with 15 home runs this season and holds the school and SoCon career mark with 47 homers in four seasons with the Lady Mocs. Baker hit .381 with 56 RBIs this season and had a .969 fielding percentage at third base with three errors in 50 games.
Stiles set UTC single-season records in stolen bases (32) and runs scored (57). The senior from Soddy-Daisy hit .392 and was thrown 32-for-33 on stolen base attempts.
Morimoto, a junior transfer from Miami-Dade Community College, had a .415 batting average in her first season at UTC with six homers and 28 RBIs.
Irwin has a 12-3 pitching record with six saves and 99 strikeouts, and she posted a team-best 1.62 ERA in 95 innings. With 19 career saves, the senior from Knoxville is tied for fifth in NCAA history.
The Lady Mocs will leave today for Statesboro, Ga., and open play Wednesday as the top seed in the league tournament.
Contact Jim Tanner at email@example.com or 423-757-6273.