Senior Michelle Fuzzard wrapped up her playing career at Jim Frost Stadium in dramatic fashion on Sunday, hitting a two-run home run in her final at bat to lead the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team to an 8-5 win over Furman.
"That was pretty awesome. I don't know how else to describe it," said the fifth-year senior from Huntington Beach, Calif. "It was just icing on top of the cake, I guess."
Fuzzard will end her career as the Southern Conference career RBI leader, and she also holds the UTC record for total bases and is second in six other offensive categories.
With Sunday's win, UTC (34-14, 17-2 SoCon) completed a three-game Southern Conference series sweep of the Paladins to keep the pressure on Georgia Southern in the race for the regular season championship. GSU and UTC each have two league losses, but the Eagles lead on winning percentage with one weekend remaining in the regular season.
Fuzzard and fellow seniors Jessica Traxler and Vivan Morimoto were honored prior to the game by UTC coach Frank Reed and athletic director Rick Hart. The three seniors each responded with strong showings in their final home game, with each having a hit and at least one RBI in the win.
"I didn't know [Senior Day] was such a big thing. I felt like I was really famous today," said Morimoto, a junior college transfer and native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, who is in her second season at UTC. "Everybody was telling us congratulations and how good we were for the team. We felt really special today."
UTC jumped out to an early lead, scoring one run in the first inning and adding four more in the second to lead 5-0 heading to the third inning. But Furman (17-31, 6-15) battled back, loading the bases in the third inning against Fuzzard, who was the starting pitcher for UTC. Furman second baseman Sarah Eidt then hit a grand slam to cut UTC's lead to a single run. The home run to left was Eidt's first home run of the season.
After Furman tied the game 5-5 in the fifth inning, the Lady Mocs offense got back on track. Junior first baseman Kasey Tydingco led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a triple and was driven home by Traxler to put UTC back on top.
"I think all of us didn't want to suck in our final game," Traxler said of her RBI hit in her final home at bat. "It's hard and it puts more pressure on yourself to think like that, but that's just how it is."
In the sixth, freshman center fielder Cheyenne Willis led off with a single and was on second when Fuzzard came up for her final home plate appearance. After taking a called strike, she hit a line drive down the left field line that stayed just inside the foul pole to push the UTC lead to three.
Freshman pitcher Taylor Deason pitched 4 2/3 innings of relief to earn her 20th win of the season to lead all SoCon pitchers this season, giving up an unearned run on two hits while striking out six Furman batters.
Reed said his three seniors were crucial to the Lady Mocs' success in 2012 -- Fuzzard, Traxler and Morimoto have accounted for 34 of UTC's 54 home runs this season -- but that he needs his team to stay focused as the conference tournament approaches now that final exams are complete.
"I told them today, 'Consider yourselves professional ballplayers. You're not worrying about anything but playing this game. We're feeding you and putting you on the bus, so go out there and play ball,'" he said.