Although noted for record-breaking offensive numbers this season, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team is proving in the Southern Conference tournament that it has a pretty good pitching staff as well.
UTC's Nikki Waters pitched a two-hitter and fellow senior Della Harrison hit her second home run in as many games as the top-seeded Lady Mocs defeated Elon 7-1 to advance to today's winners-bracket final in the double-elimination tournament at Statesboro, Ga.
"I was feeling pretty good," Waters said of her performance. "My pitches were working, my curveball was really on, and we got some runs that really took some pressure off me. So I just went out there each inning and took it one out at a time."
In Wednesday's tournament opener for UTC, Michelle Fuzzard and Kandice Irwin combined to throw a one-hitter.
Both offenses started slowly Thursday, and the Lady Mocs (40-12) squandered a chance to take a big early lead in the third inning. They loaded the bases and scored a run on a single by Sara Poteat, but Elon's Erin O'Shea struck out Fuzzard and got league home run champ Tiffany Baker and catcher Vivian Morimoto to pop out.
Waters, a former prep standout at Soddy-Daisy, struck out five and allowed no walks against the Phoenix (30-23). Her only major mistake was the first pitch in the bottom of the fourth inning, which Elon center fielder Carleigh Nester hit over the left-center-feld fence to tie the game at 1.
That's when the UTC offense went to work with the top of the order coming up. After Lyndsey Stiles reached on an error and Poteat had her second single of the day, Fuzzard brought them both home with a double. First baseman Kasey Tydingco had an RBI on a groundout, followed by Harrison's two-run shot to cap the five-run fifth for the Lady Mocs.
Harrison was 2-for-4 is 4-for-6 in the tournament with the two homers, four RBIs and four runs scored.
"Every day we're getting better," she said. "Yesterday we had five hits and today we had eight. We need to keep working hard every day. Our goal is to play one game a day."
Fuzzard finished with three RBIs, and Stiles scored twice and stole a base to raise her season total to 33.
UTC plays today at 3 p.m. against No. 7 seed UNC Greensboro, which beat Samford 4-1 in Thursday's other winners-bracket game. Elon, Samford, College of Charleston and Appalachian State remain alive in the losers bracket. Furman and host Georgia Southern both eliminated in extra-inning losses early Thursday.
The Lady Mocs went 20-3 in the SoCon during the regular season.
"Everybody in the conference is wanting another shot at us," coach Frank Reed said. "But we can't worry about that. We have to worry about what we're doing and how we got there. We got here by putting quality hits together, getting bunts down, making good pitches and playing solid defense. As long as we continue to do that, we should be all right."