The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team ran into a hard-hitting and determined Elon team Saturday at Jim Frost Stadium, and the Lady Mocs' undefeated streak in Southern Conference play came to an end.
The Phoenix beat UTC 3-2 and 7-6 to tighten the race for SoCon regular season championship. Elon catcher Kaitlyn Piazzolla did the bulk of the damage, going 3-for-5 with three home runs and seven RBIs in the two games.
UTC coach Frank Reed wasn't happy with the work of his pitching staff against the free-swinging Phoenix (30-11, 13-4) who scored 10 runs on 17 hits.
"Our pitchers didn't do the job today," Reed said. "And the thing about it was when they hit the ball, they hit it hard.
"Based on what I saw today, I'm not sure how they've lost four games (in conference). They may be the best team in the conference."
UTC (32-12, 12-2) struck first in the first game with a run in the first on a single by Nikki Waters, but Elon took the lead for good on a two-run homer by Piazzolla in the second inning and added another run on a sacrifice fly by Tomeka Watson.
Brittany Eason got the Lady Mocs within one run in the fifth inning when she hit a long shot to center field. Elon center fielder Emerald Graham tracked the ball down but crashed into the fence and the ball came out of her glove and went over for a home run.
UTC stranded six baserunners, including the potential tying run in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. Lady Mocs senior Brooke Loudermilk started the first game and struck out seven.
In the second game, Elon scored two runs in the second inning on a Graham homer and took a 3-0 lead in the sixth on Piazzolla's second homer.
Elon pounded out 13 hits in the second game to eight for UTC.
"They hit the ball hard today -- extremely hard -- off all three pitchers," junior third baseman Tiffany Baker said. "It wasn't just one pitcher that struggled. It was off all three pitchers."
"They just hit the ball hard. And we were swinging, but there was no point in those games where I thought we were hitting the ball like they did."
Much as they've done throughout the season, the Lady Mocs rallied to take a 5-3 lead on a three-run homer by Baker, an RBI single by freshman Kasey Tydingco and a bases-loaded walk to pinch hitter Jenni Martin.
But the pitchers couldn't hold the lead. Loudermilk came in to relieve Kandice Irwin and, after allowing a hit and a walk, gave up a grand slam to Piazzolla to put the Phoenix back on top 7-5.
UTC tried to mount another rally and scored a single run on a walk to Tydingco, but Lyndsey Stiles grounded out to the pitcher to leave the bases loaded.
UTC and Elon will meet again today for the final game of the series at 2 p.m.
Baker said she and her teammates have to put Saturday's losses behind them and find a way to salvage a win and protect their SoCon lead.
"We've just got to come back tomorrow and pull a win off somehow, some way," Baker said. "We've got to go out there hitting the ball early. The pitchers have to get their jobs done, and the defense has to get our job done."