For the second year in a row, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team ended the regular season with the best batting average in NCAA Division I softball. The challenge is keeping the offense going for the next four days in the Southern Conference tournament at Boone, N.C.
According to the latest NCAA rankings, the Lady Mocs (37-14, 20-2) have a .353 team batting average, after batting .351 last season. They also lead the NCAA in doubles and rank in the top 10 in scoring and slugging percentage.
UTC volunteer assistant Lindsey Ubrun has worked with the hitters the past two seasons.
"Any time a hitter is uncomfortable at the plate, they're going to have a hard time," the former Missouri standout said. "I think we have a lot of girls that are comfortable right now. They've put in a lot of hard work since the fall. ... I think it's just a testament to the hard work they've been willing to put in."
The Lady Mocs had to replace four starting position players from the 2011 team, including the entire outfield and UTC career home run leader Tiffany Baker.
"I think that coming into this season a lot of us veterans ... knew we were going to have to step up," junior first baseman Kasey Tydingco said. "We lost a lot of players and our team's fairly young, but we used that as motivation. We lost people, but we just have to keep moving."
For the first time since 2006, UTC is not the regular-season SoCon champion. Georgia Southern edged the Lady Mocs for the top seed, and UTC will open play in the double-elimination tournament today at noon against seventh-seeded Elon.
Having both the veterans and new players relaxed and ready to play is important, and Ubrun thinks the success they've had in the regular season will pay dividends this week.
"We were really lucky to have a lot of the new players ... especially in the last couple of months come through and get hits in key situations," she said. "It's not just about average, but getting hits when we need hits."
For head coach Frank Reed, the impressive offense of the past two seasons shows the character and determination his players bring to the field every day as they seek to make a return trip to the NCAA tournament.
"They really bought into what we're telling them to do, be that hitting or defensively and even on the pitching side," Reed said. "They understand that when we get on them for not performing it's because we want them to do this or that to get better. ... It really speaks volumes about the kind of players we have and the type of work ethic they have."