Tiffany Baker and the other seniors on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team weren’t willing to end their careers just yet.
Baker hit career home runs 48, 49 and 50 on Saturday as the Lady Mocs beat Jackson State 8-1 and Memphis 2-1 and advance to today’s final against Alabama in the Tuscaloosa Regional of the NCAA tournament.
The victories were the first wins by UTC in the NCAA tournament since 2002, when the Lady Mocs beat No. 1 seed Florida Atlantic twice in the Tallahassee Regional. It was just the second and third wins ever for UTC at Rhodes Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
“[The confidence was] good today,” UTC coach Frank Reed said. “We felt coming in that we had a good program. We wanted to prove something not only to ourselves but to the softball world. Hopefully we will get a chance tomorrow to prove that further.”
The three home runs, two against Jackson State and a two-run shot against Memphis, raised Baker’s school-best season total to 18. She went 3-for-6 on Saturday and knocked in six of the Lady Mocs’ 10 runs.
“I think that those are some of the harder ones that I have hit in my career, for sure,” Baker said after the two wins. “It has probably ranked up there in the top. ... It just went my way today.”
Senior center fielder Lyndsey Stiles had a two-run triple against Jackson State and recorded her 35th stolen base of the seaon, and shortstop Jessica Traxler knocked in two runs while Vivian Morimoto and Kasey Tydingco each had two hits in the opener.
Senior pitchers Nikki Waters and Kandice Irwin along with junior Michelle Fuzzard also did their part to keep UTC’s opponents from generating much offense Saturday.
Waters carried a no-hitter into the bottom of the seventh inning against Jackson State before giving up an unearned run on two hits. She struck out nine to earn her 14th win of the season, and said the wins Saturday were a big thrill.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” she said. “It keeps us motivated to keep pushing forward to the next game.”
With the win against Memphis in the late game, UTC (44-13) avenged Friday’s 4-1 loss in the opening game of the regional.
Irwin started against Memphis and pitched 4 1/3 innings before giving way to Fuzzard, who picked up the win. After Fuzzard allowed former GPS player Kamri Chester to score with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Irwin came back into the game and struck out Memphis’ leading batter, Heather Mott, to secure the win and pick up her eighth save of the year.
Fuzzard singled and was hit by a pitch in the sixth inning and scored on Baker’s homer.
Memphis earlier lost 7-1 to Alabama despite a first-inning homer by Gordon Lee graduate Maddie McKinley.
UTC (44-13) moves on to today’s regional final against Alabama at 2 p.m. EDT today. The Lady Mocs must beat the Crimson Tide twice to advance to the super regional round of the NCAA tournament.
“We feel like Alabama is a good team. We know that they are a good team,” Reed said of today’s matchup. “We feel like we can play with them.
“We will have to step our game up to play, and I think we can. It is exciting to be here, and it is an exciting chance to play them. We will go out there and see what happens.”
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 ...