The offense got off to another slow start Saturday, but sophomore Stephanie Rieck sparked the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to a 9-2 softball win over Elon to finish a three-game sweep in Southern Conference play at Jim Frost Stadium.
The Lady Mocs (23-13, 8-2) fell behind 2-0 in the first inning when the Phoenix (17-11, 6-6) had three straight hits off pitcher Michelle Fuzzard to open the game, highlighted by Carleigh Nester's two-run triple.
Elon pitcher Erin O'Shea started strong, holding the Lady Mocs hitless through the first two innings and prompting a stern message from UTC coach Frank Reed.
"I got in their face and challenged them," he said. "I basically said, 'Hey, we are playing Division I softball, and I think that we should be able to hit this pitcher because we've hit as good or better before.' And they responded and had a different intensity."
That intensity initially came in the compact form of Rieck. The 5-foot-3 outfielder got UTC's first hit of the day -- a single to right field in the third inning after freshman Cheyenne Willis worked a one-out walk.
"Ususally I don't feel pressure -- I'm more of a relaxed type of person," Rieck said. "But I knew that coming up and getting a hit would be a big asset to the team to make sure that we could get things going."
Fuzzard followed with a walk -- her 10th of the series -- to load the bases, and catcher Vivian Morimoto tied the game with a two-run double. Two pitches later, first baseman Kasey Tydingco gave UTC the lead with a three-run home run to right center field.
Rieck finished 2-for-3 with a career-best three runs in just her 11th start of the season.
"It feels great to help out my team and to be able to show them that I can be there for them and get hits for them," she said. "I think it shows that anyone can come off the bench and help out this team and we can go far."
After being walked all weekend, Fuzzard had hits in her final two at-bats to finish the series 2-for-3.
"It's frustrating because I feel really unproductive," she said. "I'm still scoring, but I'm not scoring in the way I want to, I guess selfishly. But our team can step up ... and that takes a lot of pressure off me when I'm not hitting well or [the other team] won't let me hit."
Fuzzard also picked up the pitching win, allowing five hits and no walks over four innings. Freshman Taylor Deason allowed one hit in the final three innings and earned her second save of the season.
After struggling on defense throughout Friday's doubleheader, the Lady Mocs were error-free Saturday in ending the weekend on a positive note.
"The team was definitely unsatisfied with yesterday," Tydingco said. "Wins are wins, but it was pretty ugly and nobody was content with that. So I think everybody came out today ready to play."
UTC will be back in action Tuesday with a nonconference game against Tennessee Tech at Frost Stadium before hosting Western Carolina next weekend in a three-game SoCon series.
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 ...