When it comes to drama, it didn't get much better than the conclusion of the Region 2 baseball tournament this past weekend at David Allen Memorial Ballpark. It had everything you could potentially ask for in a double-elimination baseball tournament. Adding to it was the prize awaiting the winner: A berth in the NJCAA Division II World Series later this month at David Allen.
Too bad the powers that be at the Big 12 didn't think softball players and fans deserved to potentially experience what made this past weekend's Region 2 tournament one for the ages. Who knows, there may have even been a Clay Lockett type of moment to be had at the Big 12 softball tournament at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City. No one will ever know.
Many of the same factors were in play at the start of both tournaments, including a prohibitive favorite that many assumed would cake-walk its way through to the championship.
Western Oklahoma was considered the prohibitive favorite entering the Region 2 tournament last week. The Pioneers entered ranked No. 2 in the nation. Opening against Redlands, which was 1-17 in conference play entering the tournament, seemed almost cruel to the Cougars.
But Northern Oklahoma College Enid head coach Raydon Leaton warned everybody not to make assumptions. Now, he was mostly referring to his own Jets, who had lost four straight to Western to end the season, but he still proved prescient.
Incredibly, the Pioneers were ousted after only three games, including an upset by Redlands in the opener and then eliminated by the Jets, whose dramatics still lay mostly ahead.
While many of us have not been shy about longing for a one-and-done playoff as opposed to double-elimination, the drama that unfolded was the best argument for the double-elimination format.
A look at the headlines each day from the Enid News & Eagle's coverage captured the emotional ups and downs of the tournament from the Jets' perspective as it all unfolded. From an opening comeback win on Day 1 to being one game from elimination the next, to a heady elimination of the favorites, to an unbelievable conclusion.
"Counter punch delivered"
"Jets' season on the brink"
"An unsung hero"
The final day, Sunday, was storybook for the local team, which proceeded to ruin the storybook climb of Redlands, a team disregarded but which found itself the only remaining undefeated team in the tournament entering Sunday. The Cougars, who held an 11-3 lead on the Jets, were one out from clinching an improbable berth in the World Series, when it all changed.
Lockett, a freshman who had only a handful of hits entering Sunday's game, found himself pinch-hitting in the bottom of the ninth inning, his Jets down 11-8 with bases loaded and two outs.
Lockett, who afterward told ENE sports reporter Tim Godfrey he could barely walk he was so nervous, blasted a shot over the leftfield wall at David Allen for a walk-off grand slam home run. The Jets won 12-11, forcing another championship game that afternoon between the Jets and Redlands. No doubt crushed by what transpired, the Cougars were routed 13-3 in the second game and the Jets celebrated for the second time on Sunday, this time with a dogpile as they reached the World Series for the second straight year.
The local fans also turned out in very impressive numbers Sunday, adding to the magical moment as David Allen was rocking.
Ninety minutes to the south, Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City sat empty.
Oklahoma entered the Big 12 softball tournament as massive favorites, riding an NCAA-record win streak and they did little to dissuade anybody's thinking. The Sooners won their opener, 8-6 over Texas Tech and led 5-0 over Kansas in the last game Friday night when rain interrupted the affair.
The rain continued well into the night and made the fields a mess. Still, it was shocking to see the Big 12 turn it into a complete folly when the tournament was canceled and awarded the conference's automatic NCAA tournament bid to the Sooners based on their winning the regular season crown. It is hard to imagine the field could not have been made ready for Sunday or even later.
It was a slap in the face to the players. It essentially told the players the low regard the Big 12 held for their sport to simply wipe out the tournament. Can anybody imagine any reasonable scenario where a major sport's conference tournament would simply be canceled? At least the softball players now know where they stand.
Granted, Sunday was the day the selections were being announced and time was of the essence. Contingencies could have been in the selection process. The regionals don't start until Thursday, with most, including the Norman regional, starting Friday.
Would Oklahoma have won? Probably. But, the JUCO Region 2 tournament spectacularly proved the old adage about why they play the games.
Well, not in softball. Sorry ladies.
Ruthenberg is sports editor for the Enid News & Eagle, a CNHI News Service publication.