Apr. 18—The outfield walls of Jim Frost Stadium at Warner Park are littered with the accomplishments of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball program.
Fourteen Southern Conference regular-season championships. Just as many league tournament titles, along with 11 trips to the NCAA tourney.
It’s quite possible the Mocs add to that this season, but after performances like Saturday’s, it’s going to take a lot of work.
The two losses to UNC Greensboro each followed a similar script. The Mocs jumped out to a 3-0 lead, only to watch the Spartans rally back in both games to win, 6-3 in the first and 8-6 in the second in a nine-inning battle.
Yet the games — much like the season in general — unfolded differently. The hitting for the Mocs started hot, while the pitching, Red Bank Hannah Wood in the first game and Central graduate Brooke Parrott in the second, controlled the early innings. But eventually the Spartans figured out how to score, generating five runs in the top of the seventh in the first game and hitting four home runs in the final four innings of the second.
And where it has left the Mocs (9-20, 5-5) going into Sunday’s finale is searching for answers.
“We’ve definitely had a lot of ups and downs and working through a lot of things that we probably haven’t gone through in recent years,” said UTC senior right fielder Hayleigh Weissenbach, who came back for her fifth season in 2021 and played her 200th career game as a Moc on Saturday. “We’re working through a lot, but we’re working through it together.
“That’s why there’s a lot of ups and downs, because we’re doing it as a team no matter what.”
Saturday’s results against UNCG (20-14, 5-3) were a microcosm of UTC’s season, one that has included an 11-game losing streak followed by a 5-1 start in SoCon play, which preceded the team’s current four-game losing streak.
Mocs coach Frank Reed made what may have been a costly pitching change in the seventh inning of the first game, taking Wood — who had already thrown more than 100 pitches, a season high — out after she started the frame off slow. She was nursing a 3-1 lead and needed only two more outs, but then the junior allowed back-to-back hits to put runners on second and third. Reed replaced Wood with Brooke Sudduth, who promptly walked a batter and hit another, bringing in a run.
The coach then turned to freshman Kylie Coffin, who didn’t fare much better and allowed two more runs, before turning back to Wood, who got the final two batters out.
“You stay with her (Wood) and you get beat, and everybody’s wondering why you didn’t take her out. You take her out and get beat, and everybody’s wondering why you didn’t stay with her,” Reed said in between games. “I’ve been making these calls for a lot of years; you get them right sometimes and you look like the hero, and you get them wrong and you look like the zero.”
But this season the lows have outweighed the highs. Reed is now in year 20 leading the program, and most of the accomplishments related to UTC’s softball success have happened under his watch. It was just two seasons ago that the Mocs started 13-1, finished with 33 wins and won the conference championship. Two seasons prior to that, the program won 15 games, a number they’ll be pressed to reach with only eight regular-season games remaining after top-ranked Oklahoma had to cancel a three-game series in Chattanooga scheduled for April 30 and May 1 to make up a Big 12 conference matchup.
Reed and this program have been down before — recently. Maybe they’ll figure out how to dig back out of it before it’s too late. Either way, Weissenbach believes the future is really bright for the Mocs.
“The girls really have a lot of heart,” Weissenbach said. “I know that our season hasn’t been completely the way we wanted it, but the amount of talent they have, this is the best journey as a team I’ve ever had.
“Even though our record doesn’t show these things, these girls are truly the best teammates and the best group of girls that we could have asked for, and so this is an amazing year, and I hope that these girls have learned a lot and that they can continue on having a lot of fun and energy throughout the years.”
Contact Gene Henley at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.