As Kaiti Dutton scored the final run of her final game at Jim Frost Stadium, the emotions were almost too much for her to handle.
The senior's run on a double by Sam Taylor in the bottom of the sixth inning ended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's 8-0 run-rule victory over Western Carolina on the final day of the regular season and Senior Day for Dutton, Stephanie Rieck, Tyler Templet and Hannah Thurley.
"When I was rounding third and heading home, I was about to lose it," Dutton said following the game. "This was the last time I'm going to play on this field, so it's bittersweet."
The win wrapped up a three-game sweep of the Catamounts, and pushed the Lady Mocs (30-19, 13-7 SoCon) to a second-place finish in the Southern Conference heading into the league tournament that starts Wednesday in Greensboro, S.C.
While disappointed that his team squandered chances to win the regular-season title, UTC coach Frank Reed said he was happy with how his team bounced back from a 2013 season marked by a losing record and turmoil on and off the field.
"It's a great turnaround for this team," he said. "It's been a great team to coach and a fun team, and I can't say enough about how excited I was to see them do well.
"I'm gonna miss the seniors when they're gone."
The Lady Mocs pounded out 14 hits against WCU, scoring twice in the second inning, adding three runs in the third and putting the game away with two runs in the fifth followed by Dutton's game-ending run in the sixth.
The seniors played their part in the win -- Dutton scored three runs, Rieck and Templet had hits and Rieck had a pair of RBIs -- but the underclassmen made sure the seniors would end their final home game with a win.
Sarah Beth Roberts, Anyssa Robles, Nicole Osterman, Jesslyn Stockard and Sam Taylor each had two hits, and Taylor knocked in three runs in the win.
Pitchers Katie Henderson and Taylor Deason combined to hold the Catamounts scoreless on five hits and no walks.
"It was a pretty good game, you know?" said Rieck. "We won 8-0, it was a nice quick game, all the girls played great defense and we got a bunch of hits."
Templet, who transfered to UTC after playing her first two collegiate seasons at Tennessee Tech, said she couldn't believe Sunday was her final game at Frost.
"I don't feel like a senior, and I don't feel like it's over." she said. "I loved my time here, and I wouldn't have traded it for anything in the world."
Templet played in 25 games this season and played solid defense in the infield, posting a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.
Hannah Thurley, primarily used as a pinch runner, took a roundabout route to the softball team. The Nashville resident came to UTC to play basketball, and was on former Lady Mocs coach Wes Moore's team as a freshman. After leaving basketball, she spent her sophomore year as a manager for softball before joining the team in her junior year.
"I have had an incredible journey here," she said. "I tell everyone that the four years that I've been here have 100 percent been the best four years of my life.
"I've grown a lot and matured a lot and become who I am today. ... I love the softball program and the basketball program, and they've both been amazing to me."
As UTC's two four-year seniors, Dutton and Rieck have seen many ups and downs from winning the SoCon tournament as freshmen to last season's disappointing campaign. They both said that getting UTC back to the top was their focus in their final seasons.
"That was the main goal for us seniors at the beginning of the year," Rieck said. "We just wanted to bring back that Chattanooga softball that we all knew and we all loved."
After the emotion-filled Sunday, the seniors and the rest of the team will have to quickly refocus for postseason play. UTC will open SoCon tournament play Wednesday morning against seventh-seeded Appalachian State in the double-elimination tournament.
"I'm so excited for the tournament," Dutton said. "I think that we're peaking at the right moment.
"If I can end my senior year with us killing everyone in the tournament and going on, that would be better than anything I could ask for."
Contact Jim Tanner at email@example.com or 423-757-6478. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JFTanner.
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 ...