LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Kacie Edwards’ face lights up as she shows off the silver glitter finish on her knee brace.

“It’s sparkly,” she said. “I’m excited they let me pick out a sparkly one.”

By any expectation, Edwards and her sparkly knee brace should be planted firmly on the Central Oklahoma bench, providing nothing more than moral support and inspiration to her Bronchos as they compete in the NCAA Championship.

Instead, Edwards is out there with a bat in her hands, the torn ACL in her left knee in tow, providing base hits and RBIs.

Brackets: Interactive | Printable
More: Timmermans embraces opportunity

That she’s continuing to play as her team competes for a national title would seem to be sheer fantasy. But not to those who know Kacie well.

“This wasn’t going to hold her back,” Central Oklahoma coach Genny Stidham said. “Any possibility that she can get out there and do her job she was going to do it. That’s just the kind of kid she is.”

Talented and determined, Edwards was named Division II national player of the year Tuesday by Daktronics, Inc. Wednesday, she was picked as a second-team All-American by the softball coaches.

It’s been in many ways a dream season, but it appeared that her dream season would come to a nightmare end on the afternoon of April 26.

In UCO’s final regular season game against Mid-America Christian, Edwards was playing third base when there was a popup between third and the pitcher’s circle.

“We both went for it and I saw her coming out of the corner of my eye,” Edwards explained. She tried to avoid the collision, but in the process hyperextended her knee and tore the ACL.

As soon as she got back to the dugout, Edwards was pleading with her team trainer to find a way to get her back on the field.

“I was like, ‘Can you tape me up? Can you put me back out there? Is there any way I can play after this?’ ” she asked.

If I was stinking it up I would want them to pull me. I don’t want to be a big sucking black hole in the middle of the lineup.
-- Central Oklahoma's Kacie Edwards

The team trainer advised Edwards not to play – advice she listened to for all of three games.

By May 6, with UCO facing a win-or-go home game with Emporia State in the South Central II Regional final, Edwards was back in the lineup. A frantic last-minute fitting for her brace was completed just in time to get her in the game.

And how did she do?

“She hit a two-run home run,” Stidham said. “First pitch.”

Though she’s hitting a team-leading .461 for the season with 18 home runs and 78 RBIs, Edwards has actually improved on her numbers somehow since her injury.

In the five games since she’s been back, Edwards is hitting .533 (8-for-15) with two homers and nine RBIs.

Despite being a national player of the year, it’s important to Edwards to keep earning her place in the batting order.

“If I was stinking it up I would want them to pull me,” Edwards said. “I don’t want to be a big sucking black hole in the middle of the lineup.”

Wednesday’s championship opener against Flagler was yet another in a string of steady performances at the plate. She singled in her first two at bats and scored a run before a lengthy lightning delay, ending up 2-for-4.

Edwards said she didn’t tighten up during the delay. “If anything, I was running faster,” she said. “I think it was a mental thing after those first couple of at bats.”

Though she’s had to approach her swing a little differently, Edwards is still able to generate power with a strong upper body, according to her coach.

Running the bases is problematic – Edwards said she’s had to downshift doubles into singles – though Stidham said that isn’t much different than before.

“To be honest, Kacie wasn’t fast in the first place,” Stidham said with a grin. “Doubles were not her strong suit. She had to hit it off the fence.”

But she is still in there hitting. Remarkably so.

“Things could have been different,” Stidham said. “She could have had the brace on her leg and not been here. She should be happy to be here.”

Edwards is happy, sparkly knee brace and all.

“Honestly, I’m trying to make the best out of a bad situation,” Edwards said. “This season has just been incredible. I’ve worked really hard, and a lot of people have helped me along the way and given me a lot of support. It’s humbling.”