CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - The 2011 season for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team was one to remember as the program surpassed numerous records on its way to reaching the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional Final. It was the first time in the 18-year history of the program that the Lady Mocs reached the regional finals and that accomplishment will be a building block for the future.
After dropping the opening game of the Tuscaloosa Regional to Memphis, the Lady Mocs had their backs against the wall and senior third baseman Tiffany Baker (East Ridge, Tenn.) rose to the occasion by blasting three two-run homers to clinch victories over Jackson State, 8-1, and Memphis, 2-1. Senior pitcher Nikki Waters (Soddy Daisy, Tenn.) brought a no-hitter into the seventh against JSU, while junior Michelle Fuzzard (Huntington Beach, Calif.) picked up the win over Memphis and senior Kandice Irwin (Knoxville, Tenn.) notched her eighth save of the season.
Unfortunately, the Lady Mocs season ended the next day to No. 3 Alabama, but the team compiled a 44-14 overall mark to set a new single-season winning percentage of .759. Chattanooga has now captured 13 Southern Conference Regular Season Titles, 11 SoCon Tournament Championships and has advanced to eight NCAA Regionals.
Six experienced seniors were one reason for the year that saw numerous offensive records fall as the team finished second in the nation with a .341 batting average, eighth in runs per game at 6.74 and 12th in slugging at .518. All nine starters concluded the campaign with a .300 or better average and at least 29 runs scored, 41 hits, 55 total bases and 21 RBI.
Seven single-season offensive marks were broken by the Lady Mocs that included home runs (58), RBI (368), runs scored (391), total bases (805), hit by pitch (48), slugging pct. (.521) and on-base pct. (.423). Three of which, RBI, slugging pct. and on-base pct., were also SoCon season bests.
The offense was fueled by the powerful duo of third baseman Baker and designated player Fuzzard in the middle of the lineup. Baker rewrote the Chattanooga and SoCon record book with 50 career home runs and had 18 this season. Fuzzard, the SoCon Player of the Year, drove in a conference-best 75 runs shattering the old mark of 64, while Baker notched 67.
Senior outfielder Lyndsey Stiles (Hixson, Tenn.) and sophomore second baseman Sara Poteat (Thomaston, Ga.) at the top of the order reached based allowing Fuzzard and Baker to drive them home. Scoring a Chattanooga record 63 times on the year was Stiles, who also swiped a single-season best of 35 bases. Poteat and Stiles each compiled on-base percentages above .460, while the Thomaston, Ga., native was named the SoCon Tournament's Most Outstanding Player..
Tying a single-season mark for on-base pct., was junior catcher Vivian Morimoto (Sao Pauolo, Brazil), who transferred from Miami-Dade College prior to the year. She also posted a team-best .402 batting average, while slugging .630. Freshman Natalie Powers (Glenpool, Okla.) also saw time behind the plate appearing in 33 games and notching a .324 batting average.
The numbers put up by the top of the lineup were impressive, but the bottom half of the order was just as important to the success of the Lady Mocs. One example was the SoCon Tournament in Statesboro, Ga., as the offense was jumpstarted by senior outfielders Della Harrison (Nashville, Tenn.), who blasted two home runs, and Lauren Flores (Ft. Oglethorpe, Ga.), who began some rallies from the nine spot.
With 38 RBI on the season, junior shortstop Jessica Traxler (Chino Hills, Calif.) finished third on the team in RBI and compiled a .306 average in the process. Sophomore Kasey Tydingco (Fairfield, Calif.) tallied 50 hits and 33 RBI along with a .994 fielding pct. at first base.
As the Lady Mocs offense put up record setting numbers, the pitching staff ensured that the lead would hold up. Unlike the year prior in 2010, where the Lady Mocs pulled out 10 come-from-behind victories, the consistent runs, 6.74 per game, put up by the offense allowed the pitching staff to relax.
This was only the third time in program history that three different pitchers notched at least 10 wins in a season with the last occurring in 2000. Softball has been a sport that has been historically dominated by a single pitcher, but the Lady Mocs developed a staff that was effective with distinct roles.
Two starting pitchers in Waters and Fuzzard combined for a 32-10
mark. Fuzzard began the season strong for the Lady Mocs showing her hard work in
rehabbing from an ACL injury in 2010 paid off. She posted a SoCon
leading 18-6 record in 133.2 innings pitched.
The consistency of Waters over the final month of the season propelled Chattanooga into the postseason. Waters went 7-1 during that stretch including three victories in the SoCon Tournament. She came in relief during the championship game and struck out seven of the 14 hitters she faced allowing the Lady Mocs to cruise to an 11-2 victory after five innings. The Soddy Daisy, Tenn., native fanned 108 hitters and compiled a 2.40 ERA during the season.
For the second year in a row, Irwin paced the nation with eight saves and moved into a tie for third in NCAA history with 21 in her career. She compiled a team-best 1.85 ERA and struck out 109 opposing hitters, while picking up 12 victories.
The season also saw that Lady Mocs honored as the team placed five on the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-South Region teams including a first team selection for Baker and second team selections for Fuzzard, Morimoto, Poteat and Stiles. Baker also was nominated for the Capital One Academic All-America team after being a first team selection at the district level. Irwin took third team all-district honors.
Head Coach Frank Reed was recognized with his fifth overall and fourth-straight SoCon Coach of the Year award. Chattanooga had its first SoCon Player of the Year in Fuzzard since Melissa Ramirez in 2004. The Lady Mocs had eight players named to All-SoCon teams with Irwin, Morimoto, Baker, Stiles and Fuzzard taking first team honors.The six seniors, Baker, Flores, Irwin, Harrison, Stiles and Waters, that completed their collegiate careers may be remembered for the offensive numbers and records that were posted in 2011, but they were also a part of the group that helped the program break through at the NCAA level by clinching the program's first victories since 2002.