TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Because her college softball career started with the Tennessee Lady Volunteers, former Silverdale Baptist Academy standout Kaili Phillips was able to keep emphatically encouraging her University of Tennessee at Chattanooga teammates that Friday's NCAA regional matchup against sixth-seeded Alabama was "just another game."
The Mocs apparently got the message, because it didn't take them long to look like they belonged.
Through three innings, former Central High School standout Brooke Parrott was pitching a no-hitter against the Southeastern Conference's Crimson Tide, who are regulars at the Women's College World Series. The Mocs were swinging the bats well, too, getting four hits in that same span and putting runners on first and second with no outs in the top of the fourth.
But then Alabama put in ace Montana Fouts, who closed the door on what proved to be the Mocs' best chance to score. And in the bottom half of the fourth, Bailey Dowling sent Parrott's fourth pitch of the inning over the left-field wall at Rhoads Stadium, the first domino in a 3-0 victory for the Tide.
"We settled in early," Parrott said. "Usually after that first inning is over with, we all settle in — especially me as a pitcher. I was constantly telling myself that this was just another game, and I was just trying to treat it like that."
After the homer, she gave up a single to former Tennessee catcher Ally Shipman and hit Jenna Lord with a pitch to put runners at first and second. That chased Parrott (15-8) for Izzy Alley, who walked Kaylee Tow, gave up a sacrifice fly to Megan Bloodworth and issued a two-out walk to reload the bases, but then avoided any further damage as she escaped with a swinging strikeout.
While that inning could have opened the floodgates, the Mocs kept it close, with Lord adding an RBI single in the fifth but Alabama getting outhit 7-4 by UTC. Still, the shutout — Fouts (23-6) worked 3 2/3 innings after Alex Salter started — halted a seven-game winning streak that led the Mocs to the Southern Conference tournament championship and the NCAA tourney.
UTC is in the 64-team field for the first time since 2019, when an appearance at the Oxford Regional ended quickly with back-to-back losses to host Ole Miss, 12-0, and Southeast Missouri, 2-1. Almost no one from that roster remains for the Mocs, who will try to rebound quickly.
The double-elimination regional continues Saturday, with Alabama (42-11) facing Stanford (37-19) at 3 p.m. Eastern to start the action. UTC (29-26) takes on Murray State (40-17-1) after that, with the winner playing again Saturday versus the Alabama-Stanford loser. Stanford beat Murray State 3-1 in Friday's second game in Tuscaloosa.
UTC got runners on base in six of the seven innings against the Tide, with former Gordon Lee standout Gracey Kruse on second and leadoff batter Emily Coltharp on first with one out in the top of the seventh. The Mocs were unable to produce the kind of magic that led them to last weekend's dramatic comeback win at UNC Greensboro in the league final, but coach Frank Reed remains encouraged.
"I thought we played really well," he said. "If you had seen us in the middle of the year, you'd seen how far we've come. We didn't make any errors I thought we got a little messed up with a pitch and gave them a couple of runs, but we're like the Kentucky Derby race horse, he came from the back."
After the comparison with Rich Strike, the long-shot Derby winner who will not compete in Saturday's Preakness Stakes, Reed delved into this week's battle of words between SEC football coaches Nick Saban of Alabama and Jimbo Fisher of Texas A&M.
"I mean, we're a mid-major school, we're sitting here battling finances and trying to make ours work," Reed said. "I'm not saying we're poor, I'm just saying that we don't have a million dollars sitting in the bank, and we're not able to go out here like Jimbo Fisher and Coach Saban and argue over who's going to get the most money. We're not in that league, and we can't compete that way. But we can playing softball, and we've done that with some talented athletes.
"I can't beat them down and tell them they played bad; they played really, really well. I'm proud of how they represented Chattanooga. We didn't score, but we had opportunities and this could have been a whole different ballgame."