GREENSBORO, N.C. – The Chattanooga Mocs claimed their 12th Southern Conference Softball Championship title Saturday afternoon with a 4-3 win over UNCG on its home-turf in Greensboro, N.C. The first tournament crown since 2011, it’s just the third time in program history Chattanooga has won a SoCon Tournament title when labeled lower than the top seed. It’s the second time UTC has won the championship as a No. 2 seed.
“Every championship is special,” Head Coach Frank Reed said. “I believe this one is especially important, though, because of how far this team has come. After last season, it is great to see this team achieve what they set out to do. They’ve brought a championship back to Chattanooga.”
Sophomore hurler Katie Henderson (Hixson, Tenn.) was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Sophomores Jesslyn Stockard (Ringgold, Ga.) and Sam Taylor (Ringgold, Ga.), junior Sarah Beth Roberts (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.) and Henderson were named to the All-Tournament team. Senior Associate Athletics Director Laura Herron was on hand to accept the team’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Stockard put the Mocs up 2-0 in the second inning on a two-run blast to opposite field. The first baseman’s sixth homerun of her rookie campaign, she became the first Chattanooga freshman to homer in a Southern Conference tournament since Sarah Beth Roberts (Mt. Juliet, Tenn.) in 2012.
Henderson’s scoreless streak came to an end in the third inning as Lindsay Thomas lifted a solo-homerun to right to cut the Chattanooga lead in half. Thomas’ fifth round-tripper of the tournament extended her own individual tournament homerun record.
Finding herself in a tight, bases-loaded spot for the second time on the evening, Henderson was able to work out of the dilemma with great defensive effort. A ball lifted to left, twisting toward the line, off the bat of Troy Wright was snagged on a at the last second by a diving Nicole Osterman (Kissimmee, Fla.) preserved the Mocs’ 2-1 lead.
Chattanooga extended its lead to two runs in the fourth inning and three runs in the fifth. Criket Blanco (Maryville, Tenn.) scored the game’s third run after doubling down the line in right to lead off the inning. Advancing to third on a groundout, Blanco dove into home in the following at-bat on a fielder’s choice.
The run in the fifth came courtesy of Osterman with Alyssa Taylor (Orange, Calif.) on the base paths via a single. The hard shot through the middle allowed Taylor to beat out a throw from center, putting UTC up 4-1.
Junior Taylor Deason (Clarksville, Tenn.) made a brief appearance for the Mocs in the middle innings as a change of pace. Entering at the beginning of the fourth inning, Deason gave up just one run. Allowing the run to score in the fifth – cutting Chattanooga’s lead to 4-2 – Henderson re-entered to close out the inning.
A lightning delay in the sixth put the game on hold for 30 minutes, but the Spartans were able to score a run immediately following the downtime. With two runners on, Danielle Vega doubled to the fence in left to chop the UTC lead down to one run.
Despite the UNCG momentum, Chattanooga sat the Spartans down in order in the seventh to secure its 12th SoCon Tournament title in program history.
“We needed to win this tournament,” Henderson said. “We’ve had a strong team all season that’s had some tough luck against other conference teams. We’d worked too hard to come to Greensboro and go home empty handed.”
Deason came away with the win – qualifying in relief – while Henderson’s return in the late innings set her up to receive the save. Deason improved to 14-7 with the victory while Henderson earned her third save of the season.
The Mocs have their regional fate decided Sunday night. The NCAA selection show is set for 10 p.m., and will broadcast on ESPNU. A watch party for the selection show is scheduled for 9 p.m. Sunday at the Downtown Chattanooga Buffalo Wild Wings on Market Street.