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The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team came into Saturday's series opener against Samford needing one win to clinch the Southern Conference regular-season title.

The Mocs are still looking for that win after losing 4-3 to the Bulldogs in a game in which Samford pitcher Mollie Hanson was pitching lights out until late.

Samford (31-19, 10-6) scored two runs in the first inning off freshman pitcher Cori Jennings on a hit by Callie Brister that was just out of the reach of third baseman Sarah Beth Roberts -- one of six Mocs seniors honored before the game.

"They didn't really hit the ball all that hard," UTC coach Frank Reed said. "They had several dink hits and there was that blooper that fell in in the first inning. But obviously we couldn't put any runs on the board, and it took us seven innings to adjust to that pitcher.

"We had everything in place to win a ballgame and a great crowd out here, but maybe we were distracted by senior day."

Hanson pitched a strong game for Samford, which can take the SoCon title from UTC with a sweep of today's doubleheader, scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. She struck out eight and allowed seven UTC hits, although the Mocs got to her in the seventh inning with three hits including a three-run homer by catcher Anyssa Robles to cut the lead to one.

"It was right down the middle," Robles said of the bomb to straight-away center field. "The first pitch was outside, so I was looking for another outside or for her to try and jam me. But it was right down the middle and I took it and went with hit.

"I think we were seeing (Hanson well the whole game). It was just a matter of making the adjustment to the dropball we were seeing and not swinging at the riseball."

Robles and freshman designated hitter Kaileey Palazzolo each had two hits for the Mocs (31-12, 11-4), and left-handed hitting first baseman Jesslyn Stockard went 3-for-3 but had few RBI chances.

"It's frustrating, especially for me," Stockard said. "I wish that we would have had more runners on when I was up. With my hits, maybe we would have pushed a few runs across. Then with Robles' big hit, maybe we would have been up 5-4 or 6-4 rather than down 4-3."

Stockard said she believes the Mocs can take care of business today and get the win they need to claim the regular-season crown and No. 1 seed heading into next week's SoCon tournament, which begins Wednesday with UTC hosting the tourney at Frost Stadium.

"We had a good meeting after the game, and I think everyone is on the same page," she said. "I think we need to feed off each other's positive energy, and we need to relax and come out here and play Chattanooga softball like we know how to play.

"I have faith in every single one of my teammates. I think we're going to make the adjustment and get the job done tomorrow."

Reed said his team has to come out with better focus today to avoid a costly sweep that will cost them a championship and valuable momentum heading into the postseason.

"Here's the deal: If you can't come onto your home field and win one out of three, then they deserve to beat us. It's as simple as that," he said. "I've really been concerned for the past couple of weeks that maybe we peaked too early. Hopefully we can get it back tomorrow, but if they can win two tomorrow then they deserve to beat us."

Contact Jim Tanner at sports@timesfreepress.com. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.

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