The road to the Southern Conference tournament title became a lot more difficult for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team Friday.
The Lady Mocs' bats fell silent in a 5-2 loss to Georgia Southern in the winners-bracket final in Boone, N.C.
UTC must win three games today, at 11 a.m. against College of Charleston and then twice against GSU, to earn the program's 12th SoCon tourney title and an NCAA regional berth.
UTC (39-15) entered the tournament with the best batting average in NCAA Division I softball but managed only two hits against Eagles ace Sarah Purvis, who retired 13 in a row to finish the win.
The Lady Mocs led 2-0 in the second inning after first baseman Kasey Tydingco walked and senior shortstop Jessica Traxler homered down the left-field line.
"I knew what she was throwing," Traxler said. "We have been watching film, preparing for her. She wasn't throwing anything different than we have already seen. It was a good swing on a good ball.
"I think how we come from this is what matters."
Georgia Southern (41-17) answered in the bottom of the second, scoring four runs on three hits and a walk off Lady Mocs starter Taylor Deason. The freshman also committed a fielding error that allowed a run to score in the inning. The big blow was a two-run home run by Kaitlyn Johnson.
The Eagles added a run in the third inning on an RBI double by Andrea Tarashuk, and Purvis shut UTC down the rest of the way. Sophomore right fielder Stephanie Rieck had the Lady Mocs' only other hit, a two-out double in the top of the third inning.
Deason allowed nine hits in 5 1/3 innings and struck out six in her eighth loss of the season. Senior Michelle Fuzzard came in for her first pitching appearance of the tournament and struck out two Eagles, stranding two baserunners, in the bottom of the sixth inning.
As the Lady Mocs' only two active pitchers, Fuzzard and Deason would have to put in a lot of innings today for UTC to take home the tournament trophy.
"I am pretty fresh, as fresh as a fifth-year senior can be," Fuzzard said. "Taylor did a great job. She has done awesome. Hopefully, I can give her some innings of rest tomorrow because they have not seen me yet. I don't know how much of an ace in the hole I am, but maybe the element of surprise.
"In order to regroup and get ready for tomorrow, it is going to be a gut-check. It is going to be about checking where you are mentally and making improvements from there."
Contact Jim Tanner at email@example.com or 423-757-6478.