It’s been a while since Central Missouri has reached the NCAA Tournament Division II Championship, and this journey wasn’t without its tense moments.
Take Saturday. With a trip to national finals on the line, the Jennies held a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning and faced the bases loaded.
Coach Susan Anderson came to the field and addressed her team.
“We want diving bodies,” she said.
As if on cue, shortstop Ali Jo Rogers turned to chase a pop-up, slid and caught the ball, starting a dogpile in short center field. The Jennies completed the sweep of Augustana, S.D., on its home field in the Super Regional and qualified for their first NCAA Championship Division II finals in 21 years.
“We’ve put ourselves in pressure situations all year,” Anderson said. “But we’ve done a great job of staying composed.”
The Jennies, 49-14, will face Adelphi, N.Y., on Thursday as eight Super Regional champions gather at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, the first time the Division II championship has been contested at the site of the Division I World Series.
Milestones have marked the season for the Jennies, who last got this far in a season in 1994, when Anderson was a freshman for the program she now coaches.
The 1997 team was the last to win an MIAA Tournament, and an NCAA appearance hadn’t happened since 2009.
All of those goals were reached this year by a team with many weapons. Central Missouri is balanced across the board. The Jennies can hit for power — Lauren Mabe and Carlie Rose homered for Central’s runs on Saturday — and average (.307 as a team).
They take risks on the bases and lead the MIAA with 123 steals and are one of the nation’s top defensive teams.
Pitcher Katie Shockley had made 38 career starts on the mound before turning in a monster senior season. She’s 27-6 in 37 appearances, 34 starts, with a 1.98 ERA.
“She has stepped up for us every time,” Anderson said.
Jakki Prater, 15-7 and 2.62, and Jessica Wilkes, 6-1 and 3.83, also have given Central a chance to win every game.
The Jennies seemed destined to need an additional game to reach Oklahoma City. Last weekend, they had defeated Augustana in the first of the best-of-three. In that deciding seventh inning of the second game, Shockley thought she had surrendered a home run.
“My heart dropped a little bit,” Shockley said as the ball sailed to the fence.
But center fielder Makayla Schoonover got a glove on it ,and the ball dropped to the grass. An intentional walk loaded the bases. That’s when Anderson made her plea for all-out effort.
“We do like to make things exciting,” Shockley said. “We don’t do anything the easy way. But I think it means we’re ready for any challenge we face.”