One out away from victory, Central Missouri saw its softball season end in heartbreaking fashion.
The Jennies saw a three-run lead disappear in the bottom of the seventh inning, ultimately losing 7-6 in eight innings to California (Pa.) in an elimination game at the NCAA Division II championship tournament Saturday morning at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.
Tears were flowing during postgame interviews, and the focus remained on the positive aspects of the season despite the crushing loss.
“The last game of the season is never easy,” coach Susan Anderson said. “But to be standing where we’re standing at the national championships — one of eight teams — not many people can say they did that.
“What an amazing ride, an amazing journey for our team, for our seniors. It’s definitely something to be proud of.”
Central Missouri took a 6-0 lead in the fifth inning, only to see California score three runs in the bottom half. Still leading 6-3 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Central Missouri surrendered four consecutive singles to tie the game at 6 and force extra innings.
California’s Erica Vallecorsa doubled to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning, and she moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. After a lineout for the second out of the inning, the Vulcans’ Emily Price delivered the game-winning single to right field that ended the Jennies’ season.
Central Missouri’s first run came in the third inning on a passed ball with the bases loaded, and Lauren Mabe followed with a two-run single. The Jennies added three more in the top of the fifth on back-to-back home runs. Jakki Prater hit a two-run shot to left-center field and Mabe came up next with a solo homer.
Prater, a senior, finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs and Mabe was 2-for-4 with three batted in. Prater allowed four runs on seven hits in 3 1/3 innings and took the pitching defeat in relief of Jennies' ace Katie Shockley, a senior who gave up three runs on three hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings.
The Jennies concluded the season at 49-16 with a painful defeat, but with a year-long performance that could be a sign of a young, blossoming program.
“I think this is a great starting point,” Mabe said. “We’re losing some good pitchers, but we have freshmen who can pitch. We’ve still got leaders on the team. We’ve got Ali Jo (Rogers). I’m ready for next year. I’m ready to come back.”