EDMOND, Okla. — This storyline might not even sell in Hollywood.
A major knee injury suffered last week was supposed to sideline Central Oklahoma’s Kacie Edwards for the entire post-season, but the junior slugger made a surprise appearance in Sunday’s NCAA Division II South Central Regional II final and promptly propelled the No. 2-ranked Bronchos to the title.
Edwards gave UCO a big emotional lift with a two-run home run on the first pitch in her initial at bat — literally walking around the bases after doing so — and she came through again in the top of the seventh inning with a clutch two-run go-ahead single as the Bronchos rallied past Emporia State 8-6.
UCO scored three times in the seventh to overcome a 6-5 deficit and pull out their third come-from-behind win in the tournament, each one more amazing than the last.
It was a school-record 42nd win for the Bronchos (42-6), who moved into the best-of-three South Central Regional finals against No. 7 Angelo State next weekend in San Angelo, Texas.
“This team just refuses to give up,” head coach Genny Stidham said. “We never think we’re out of the ball game and they proved it again. It’s unbelievable what Kacie Edwards was able to do today on one leg and I couldn’t be more proud of a group of girls. It was an amazing game.”
“I just wanted to find a way to contribute,” Edwards said. “Our trainer didn’t recommend me playing, but it was my decision and he [UCO assistant trainer Michael Brobston] did a great job getting me braced up.
“I didn’t go in with any plan my first at bat, I just wanted to get a base hit. The first pitch was up and in and that’s where I like ‘em.”
ESU forced the “if necessary” game with a 2-0 win in Sunday’s opener, the first shutout suffered by the Bronchos this season, with Stidham inserting Edwards into the designated player spot for the finale in trying to give UCO an offensive spark.
And the All-America candidate delivered in impressive style.
Edwards, who tore the ACL in her left knee last Thursday in the final regular-season game, gave the Bronchos a 2-0 lead with her bomb over the right field fence in the second inning and UCO was up 4-1 after Nathalie Timmermans’ solo homer in the top of the third.
The Hornets came roaring back, tying the game with a three-run volley in the bottom of the third and adding two more in the fourth for a 6-4 lead.
Timmermans had a run-scoring single in the fifth to pull the Bronchos within 6-5 and it stayed that way until the seventh.
Kayce Raines led off the inning with a single through the left side, Timmermans added another single to left and Megan Whitmire loaded the bases with an infield single to set the stage for Edwards, who drilled a single down the right field line to score two runs and give UCO a 7-6 lead.
“I knew our guys would do their job and get on base and I had to do my job,” Edwards said of her go-ahead hit. “You have to go up there with confidence and I did.”
Brittany Weaver followed Edwards’ clutch hit with a run-scoring infield single to add an insurance run and senior pitcher Rachael Steverson did the rest.
Steverson, who earned all three UCO wins in the tournament, put ESU down in order in the bottom of the seventh – getting a diving catch from left fielder Devyn Frazier for the first out – to close out the dramatic victory and earn her school-record 24th win.
Timmermans went 3-for-3 to lead UCO’s 11-hit attack, while Edwards and Kaylee Brunson added two apiece.