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Steven Hemphill | | May 27, 2014

Hemphill: West Texas A&M's Gehle saves best for last

  Brittany Gehle had gone hitless in her previous nine at-bats before her home run.

SALEM, Va. -- In her last swing in the last game of the 2014 season, Britanny Gehle – the last batter in West Texas A&M’s lineup – had the hit that her school’s fans will be talking about for years to come.

After going hitless through the first three games and six innings of the Lady Buffs’ NCAA Division II championship campaign, Gehle hit a three-run home run in Monday’s final with two outs in the top of the seventh inning to break a scoreless tie.

And then, despite surrendering solo home runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, pitcher Rita Hokianga finished struck out Valdosta State’s final batter, giving West Texas A&M a 3-2 win and the first national championship for the nine-year-old program.

“I was just saving it all until the end,” Gehle joked. And when you just won a national championship, just about any attempt at humor will get your coaches and teammates laughing.

West Texas A&M coach Kevin Blaskowski, however, quickly got serious when he started talking about Gehle, a junior infielder who last year hit second in the lineup, but was moved to ninth for strategic reasons.

“I went to Brittany and told her it was not a demotion moving to the nine spot,” Blaskowski said. “We needed her down there because that's the second leadoff position for us. That's a key spot in our lineup. And for her to have the season that she's had there, she's come up with big at-bats all year. And she had a number of big home runs this year.”

Monday’s homer was her sixth of the season. Prior to that shot, Gehle had gone 0-for-9 at the plate, but she said the earlier events in the inning helped keep her calm as her at-bat approached.

Senior third baseman Jessica Sipe had opened the inning with a double. After the Lady Buffs’ next two hitters popped out, designated player Lacey Taylor drew a walk, putting Gehle in the position to do something that might become legendary.

“My big thing was that I didn't want to let the team down,” Gehle said. “With [our seniors] Jessica, and Alyssa [Lemos] and Mallory [Wyatt] -- this being their last game -- I wanted to try to help and do something for my team.

“All week, I hadn't been contributing with the bat like I should be. I wanted to stay focused ... and do the best I could.”

So what kind of pitch led to her home run?

“To be honest, I have no idea,” she said, which drew few more hardy laughs from her teammates and Blaskowski.

And while the Lady Buffs provided plenty of great memories for their coach in 2014, Blaskowski admits that Gehle’s home run will be pretty high on his best-of list.

“For a kid like her to be in that situation as our nine-hole hitter, it was just an unbelievable experience,” the coach said. “When I saw that ball leave the ballpark, I couldn't have been happier for an individual as I was for her.”