Murray Evans, Sports Information Director
KINGSVILLE, Texas – Making its NCAA Division II softball tournament debut, Oklahoma Christian didn’t seem particularly nervous on Thursday at No. 8-ranked Texas A&M-Kingsville, playing flawless defense and outhitting the high-powered Javelinas by a 7-6 count.
But most of OC’s hits didn’t come with runners in scoring position, as baserunning issues cost the Eagles four outs. That’s hard to overcome against any team, much less a great one, and TAMUK took full advantage en route to a 5-0 win in the opening round of the South Central Regional on a cloudy night at Vernie and Blanche Hubert Field.
Eighth-seeded OC (38-15) fell into the losers’ bracket and will face No. 11-ranked, and fifth-seeded, Colorado Mesa (45-10) at 4:30 p.m. Friday in an elimination game. Top-seeded TAMUK (44-8) will play No. 10-ranked and fourth-seeded West Texas A&M (32-13) in the winners’ bracket final. West Texas A&M beat Colorado Mesa 7-3 in the tournament opener.
“We had our chances,” OC coach Shanon Hays said. “I felt as if our girls had better coaching, that would have been a good game. They had some baserunning plays they made on us that were my fault, and the crunch pitch of the game, I called a pitch and my pitcher made it and they hit it a long ways.
“We played a pretty clean game and I thought we had a good approach to their good freshman pitcher, but they’re a good team and you’ve got to play really well if you want to have a chance to beat them. We tip our hat to them. They’ve got a good club.”
Seven Eagles each had one hit, but OC also hit into three double plays (on a popup, a line drive and a ground ball), short-circuiting potential rallies in the first, fourth and seventh innings. TAMUK right fielder Amber Reyes also made an outstanding throw to nail OC speedster Brie Dunckel as Dunckel tried to go from first to third base on a sixth-inning single by Hunter Strickland.
All that helped TAMUK freshman pitcher Saidi Castillo (24-4) stay in the game and record a 77-pitch shutout, something not often seen with an opponent has seven hits. OC was shut out for the first time since a 3-0 loss at St. Edward’s (Texas) on March 23 and for just the second time this season.
OC’s best chance to score against TAMUK came in the third inning, when Sierra Schultz led off with a single to center field and Bailey Strecker singled to right field with one out, sending Schultz to third. But Castillo struck out Dunckel and retired Strickland on a popup to end the threat.
“We had some pretty good at-bats,” Hays said. “We hit a couple of balls right to them that were hard and they made the breaks and we didn’t get any. But I was proud of how our girls competed.”
OC freshman Kali Crandall (16-6) pitched well enough, strikeout out seven and allowing six hits in five innings of work. The Javelinas’ hits, however, came with runners in scoring position. In the first inning, Roxy Chapa doubled off the left-field wall with two outs to score Anastasia Leibas, and in the second, Claire Chernosky’s single to right field brought home Makenzie Mays, who Crandall had hit with a pitch.
TAMUK essentially put the game away in the fifth, when Loren Kelly and Leibas singled ahead of a wind-aided, three-run home run over the left-field wall by Chapa. That made it 5-0 and Hays moved Lindsey Stoeckel to the circle to pitch the sixth inning. She retired the Javelinas in order.
Despite the loss, Dunckel and Strecker both said it was a fun experience to be on the squad that played in OC’s first Division II tournament game.
“I liked the big crowd and I liked the intensity that comes with playing in a bigger game,” Dunckel said. “I like seeing my teammates go up and compete every at-bat. We thrive under pressure.”
Strecker said is “100 percent confident, if not more” that the Eagles are ready for the do-or-die situation they’ll face on Friday, when their season will be on the line.
“We’ve been in this situation before in the regular season, in doubleheaders and three-game series, where the first game didn’t go our way even though we played well but we bounced back. I’m fully confident in everybody.”