Today (times EDT)
• 3 seed Memphis vs. 2 seed UTC, 4:30 p.m.
• 4 seed Jackson State vs. 1 seed Alabama, 7 p.m.
FIVE LADY MOCS MAKE ALL-REGION TEAM
UTC had a school-record five players named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-South Region teams Thursday.
For the second consecutive year, senior third baseman Tiffany Baker was a first-team selection. Four Lady Mocs were named to the second team: junior catcher Vivian Morimoto, sophomore second baseman Sara Poteat, senior center fielder Lyndsey Stiles and junior utility player Michelle Fuzzard.
All five Lady Mocs selected to the all-region team are now eligible to be considered for NFCA All-America honors.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Memphis softball teams both have had successful seasons in 2011, continuing in the NCAA tournament.
They enter today’s opening game of the Tuscaloosa Regional almost evenly matched in the latest NCAA RPI rankings, with UTC ranked No. 46 and the Tigers at No. 48, and each team has 12 losses.
But they have reached the NCAA tournament in very different ways, and which method works better probably will determine who will win today’s 4:30 p.m. EDT game.
UTC (42-12) has used an explosive offense to pummel teams into submission, while the Tigers (37-12) rely much more on pitching and defense to keep opponents from scoring.
UTC senior third baseman Tiffany Baker said Wednesday that she expects today’s game to be evenly matched.
“I feel like they’re going to be equal to us,” she said. “They didn’t win their conference, which says a little bit. So they’re coming into the game off a loss and they haven’t played in a while.
“Their pitching is usually what keeps them in the game, and we’ve been preparing for that up pitch all week because [Memphis ace Carly Hummel] throws a rise ball — keeping your hands above the ball and hitting the ball on the ground.”
UTC leads the NCAA in team batting average at .351. The Lady Mocs have set school records this season in home runs (55), RBIs (356), runs (378) and total bases (771), and junior designated player Michelle Fuzzard is second in the nation with 1.37 RBIs per game. Senior center fielder Lyndsey Stiles is fifth in the NCAA with 1.17 runs scored, and Baker set a school record with 15 homers.
The Tigers offense has not been as spectacular, but they’ve been effective at keeping other opponents from scoring. Memphis has hit .249 and scored 213 runs while holding opponents to a .194 average and giving up 2.25 runs per game.
Hummel, a sophomore from Bakersfield, Calif., has a 20-6 record and an impressive 1.32 ERA. Not far behind is Janelle Valle, with a 1.68 ERA and a 6-2 record.
“I think [Hummel] has that really good rise ball that keeps them in games,” UTC senior pitcher Nikki Waters said. “But I feel like our hitters can overcome that and get some hits off her.”
While offense has been the signature feature of the Lady Mocs in 2011, they also have a balanced and effective pitching staff. Fuzzard and seniors Waters and Kandice Irwin each won more than 10 games this season, and the staff has a combined ERA of 2.43.
Waters in particular has been strong late in the season, and she was dominant in last weekend’s Southern Conference tournament. The former Soddy-Daisy player was the winning pitcher in three of the four wins in the tournament, and she allowed only four hits in 15 1/3 innings while striking out 14 batters.
Memphis does have some offensive firepower that UTC must respect. Heather Mott leads the Tigers with a .364 average, and former GPS standout Jessica Phillips is batting .338 and has set school records with 15 homers and 44 RBIs this season.
“They say they win on pitching and defense,” UTC coach Frank Reed said. “But you have to score at least one run to win, so I say offense is going to have to be an important part of that.
“I think if we can come in and establish ourselves early offensively, put the ball in play and rattle them a little bit, then I think they’re going to be concerned. I don’t think they feel like they’re going to be able to score many runs.”
Jim Tanner has worked as assistant sports editor at the Times Free Press since late 2006. He started at the Times Free Press in 2001 and worked as a news copy/design editor from 2001 through 2006. In addition to working as a night and weekend editor producing local and national sports coverage for print and online readers, Jim occasionally writes local sports and outdoors stories. Jim grew up in Ringgold, Ga., and is a graduate ...