Mike Kirk, Part-time Director for Media Relations
EDMOND – Another dynamic pitching performance combined with just enough offense has Central Oklahoma one win away from the NCAA Division II Central Regional I Tournament championship.
Bailey McKittrick gave up just four hits in throwing her second straight complete game and the top-ranked Bronchos held off No. 12 Arkansas Tech, 3-2, in a tense winner’s bracket finals contest Friday afternoon.
UCO, now 47-5 on the season, will face either ATU or Southern Arkansas in Saturday’s noon title game. Whichever team comes out of the loser’s bracket will need to beat the Bronchos twice to advance to next week’s Central Super Regional.
“We preached it all night last night that it was going to be a tough battle,” said head coach Cody White after his team ended ATU’s 17-game winning streak. “Arkansas Tech is extremely tough and we were going to have to fight the entire game and I’m very proud of our kids. They fought, they fought every pitch.”
Central managed just four hits, tying a season low for the second straight game in the regional. Two runs came in the second and the final score came in the fourth without benefit of a hit, which turned out to be the game-winner.
And, with McKittrick in the circle once again, those three runs were enough.
The rookie right-hander scattered four hits and walked four in going the distance for the 17th time this season, using her defense to get out of a couple of jams. McKittrick improved to 26-2, moving into third place on UCO’s single-season wins list.
“I just have to keep pushing because I know my teammates have my back,” McKittrick said. “Halley (catcher Randolph) doesn’t get a lot of credit, but there’s so much more behind it and she’s coaching me every pitch. I give all the credit to my catcher.”
McKittrick got out of a two-out, bases-loaded situation in the second inning when second baseman Casady Webb snared a hard-hit grounder up the middle and got an inning-ending force-out at second, with the Bronchos then taking the lead in the bottom of that frame.
Carli Jones got things started with a one-out walk and Allie Eicher put UCO in front when she ripped a two-out run-scoring double off the wall in right-center field. Webb followed with a clutch full-count RBI single to right to make it 2-0.
The Golden Sun pushed across their first run in the fourth and Central responded with its final score in the bottom of that inning. And the Bronchos did it without getting the bat on the ball.
Jones opened the fourth with a walk and ATU got two quick outs before Webb and Brighton Gilbert drew consecutive walks to load the bases. Hazel Puempel then made it three in a row, drawing a four-pitch walk to force in a run that made it 3-1.
The Golden Sun got closer with disputed solo home run in the sixth. The long fly ball down the left field line was first ruled foul, but an ATU protest led to an umpire convention and a change to fair, which cut UCO’s lead to 3-2.
The Bronchos couldn’t add to their lead in the bottom of the sixth, but McKittrick got two harmless fly outs and a routine ground ball in the top of the seventh to close out the game.