No. 1 UCO wins Central Region softball opener

UCO Athletics
Mike Kirk, Part-time Assistant for Media Relations

EDMOND – The high-powered offense was stymied, but Central Oklahoma had Bailey McKittrick in the pitching circle and that was enough.

McKittrick hurled a complete-game five-hit shutout and the top-ranked Bronchos overcame their worst hitting game of the season to knock off Minnesota-Duluth, 4-0, in the first round of the Central Regional I Tournament Thursday afternoon.

UCO – which entered the game with a .353 team average — managed just four hits and benefitted from three errors in scoring three unearned runs to advance to the winner’s bracket finals. The Bronchos improved to 46-5 and will meet No. 12-ranked Arkansas Tech at 12 p.m. Friday.

“We didn’t play our best, but it was a good win overall,” said head coach Cody White, who notched his 250th career win (250-95). “We’ll take it at this point of the season and be happy to move on.

“Their pitcher (Sam Pederson) did a really good job spotting up and it took us a little bit of time to adjust, but we’ll work on cleaning up our approach tomorrow.”

McKittrick needed 104 pitches to record her 16th complete game – and third shutout – in improving to 25-2.  The rookie right-hander didn’t walk a batter, struck out five and only once allowed UMD to put a runner in scoring position.

Pederson was equally as good for the Bulldogs in limiting UCO to four hits, with the Bronchos getting all of those in the two innings they scored.

“There’s a lot of weight on our shoulders,” junior catcher Halley Randolph said. “We’re the number one team in the country and we have a target on our back every game we play.

“We came out and we were nervous, we really were. Bailey pitched lights out, but as hitters we were nervous.”

Central broke on top in the third after loading the bases with no outs on Brighton Gilbert’s lead-off walk and back-to-back singles by Hazel Puempel and Bailey Thompson. Randolph drove in the go-ahead run with a fielder’s choice, but the Bronchos weren’t able to build on that.

It stayed 1-0 until the fifth when UCO took control with a three-run inning that was keyed by two big Minnesota-Duluth errors.

Gilbert was again the catalyst, leading off with a single to left-center, and a one-out throwing error allowed her to move to second and put Thompson on base. Randolph singled to center field to load the bases, then JoBi Heath drew a walk to force in a run.

Another throwing error on Carli Jones’ grounder to first allowed two more runs to score to push the lead to 4-0 and that was more than enough cushion with McKittrick in the circle.