Mike Kirk, Part-time Assistant Media Relations Director
EDMOND – Through five innings it didn’t appear there was going to be much drama in Friday’s NCAA Division II Central Super Regional battle between Central Oklahoma and Augustana.
The No. 15-ranked Vikings were cruising along with a 5-1 lead and looked to be on their way to sweeping the best-of-three series in punching their ticket to next week’s Division II World Series.
Then the never-say-die Bronchos struck back, erupting for five runs in the sixth to surge in front 6-5 and put themselves in position to force the “if necessary” game. But it wasn’t meant to be.
Augie punctuated a wild finish with two runs in the bottom of the seventh to pull out a 7-6 walk-off victory and end one of the best seasons in UCO history. The Vikings improved to 56-10 in advancing to next week, while the top-ranked Bronchos finished 48-8.
“We won two games in a day 18 times this season and our mindset was that we were going to do it again,” head coach Cody White said. “It didn’t happen, but it wasn’t because we didn’t leave it all on the field. Augustana has a great team and they deserved to win, but we’re pretty good as well. We just came up a little short today.”
Central were three outs away from extending the series when it took a 6-5 lead into the bottom of the seventh, but a lead-off walk and hit batter put Augie in great position. A single up the middle tied it and then, after getting one out, a base hit to center field scored the winning run.
Exhilaration for the Vikings as players poured out of the dugout in celebration. Despair for the Bronchos as a storybook season came to a close.
“This team is special and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” White said. “They have great work ethic, they play with passion and they fight tooth and nail until the very end. We had an amazing season and what happened today can’t take away from everything we accomplished.”
This UCO squad won the MIAA regular-season and tournament titles as well as the Central Regional I Tournament crown while finishing with the second-most wins in program history. And the Bronchos didn’t go down without a fight.
Augie jumped out to a 5-0 lead after three innings, with the Bronchos finally breaking through in the top of the fourth when JoBi Heath led off with a deep fly ball that soared over the center field fence for her 43rd career home run.
It was still a 5-1 deficit going into the sixth when UCO took advantage of Augie pitching wildness to surge in front.
The Bronchos loaded the bases with one out as Lexy Dobson reached on a fielder’s choice, Allie Eicher was hit by pitch and Casady Webb walked. Brighton Gilbert then drew another walk to force in a run, Hazel Puempel followed with an RBI single up the middle and Halley Randolph’s sacrifice fly suddenly tied the game.
Heath then came through with a run-scoring – and record-setting — single through the right side to put UCO in front 6-5. It was the 226th RBI of Heath’s glorious career, making her the school’s all-time leader.
The Bronchos couldn’t add to their lead in the seventh and the six runs proved to not be enough against Augie’s powerful offense in the faithful final inning.
It was the last game for four UCO seniors – Heath, Thompson, Webb and Carli Jones.
“I can’t say enough about our seniors,” White said. “What incredible players and people they are. They were the heart and soul of this team. We’re going to miss them not just for their ability on the field but for the spirit and passion they brought to the field every day.”