Kacie Edwards pulled a Kirk Gibson.
And she doesn't even know who he is.
You can forgive Edwards for that. She's not much of a baseball fan, and she wasn't even born when the Dodgers slugger hit that magical home run. And yet, it's impossible not to think of Gibson after what Edwards did over the weekend.
She hit her own I-don't-believe-what-I-just-saw home run.
“I can't believe it happened,” she said, wonder still in her voice a day later. “The last image I have in my mind is the ball going over the fence.”
The Central Oklahoma slugger has had lots of big hits this season. She leads NCAA Division II softball with 73 RBIs, which is also a school record, and is one of the main reasons that the Bronchos are having their best season in school history. Forty-two wins. Second in the country.
Still, nothing prepared her for what happened Sunday afternoon.
“It was like something out of a dream,” Edwards said.
The dream, though, started with a nightmare.
In UCO's regular-season finale, Edwards went for a pop-up between her spot at third base and the pitching circle. Right before she snagged the ball, she caught sight of the pitcher out of the corner of her eye.
Both were headed for the ball.
Headed for a collision, too.
Edwards tried to stop, but when she planted her left leg, her knee buckled. She tore her anterior cruciate ligament, sprained her medial collateral ligament and bruised her tibia. Her bones actually smacked into each other.
She collapsed to the dirt.
“I just wanted to stay in the fetal position,” she said. “I was bawling my eyes out, saying some words I probably shouldn't have.”
Edwards had experience with blown-out knees, unfortunately. She tore the ACL in her right knee when she was a junior at Yukon High. She knew the struggle ahead.
But with postseason play a week away, she wanted to try to play. She couldn't have surgery for a few more weeks, and she really couldn't do much more damage to injure her knee.
Doctors and trainers advised her against playing but didn't rule it out completely.
So, she spent the week leading up to regionals rehabbing and resting. Other than doing strengthening exercises two or three times a day, she stayed off her feet as much as possible, asking teammates for rides to class, sitting on the bleachers throughout practice, even sleeping with her leg elevated and an icing machine on it.
“I've basically been babied,” she said, laughing.
Her parents, for example, had to move her out of her on-campus apartment with the end of the semester last week. All she could do was watch.
“Not that I'm complaining,” she joked.
The goal initially was to try to be ready for super regionals, which starts this coming weekend. Edwards wasn't really thinking about playing during regionals this past weekend. She didn't even wear her uniform to the field on Friday, the first day of the tournament.
UCO won its first two games without her, but then on Sunday, it was shut out by Emporia State. It was the first time the Bronchos had been shut out all season.
Suddenly, UCO faced an if-necessary game and win-or-go-home scenario.
Edwards went to talk to her dad and sister after the first game. Cheering and encouraging her teammates for three days was all good and fine, but it wasn't helping them win ballgames.
“Do you think I should go ask her if I can hit?” she finally said of UCO coach Genny Stidham.
“My hands are off this one,” her dad said. “You're going to do what you want.”
Her sister was more emphatic.
“Go ask her,” she said.
“The way I see it,” she told Stidham, “I'm going to end up having surgery anyway. I think I can help you guys out. If I'm going to go out, I want to go out fighting with everyone.”
Stidham thought a moment.
“Let's go hit,” she finally said.
Edwards hadn't touched a bat in more than a week, so she had no idea how her knee would react. The left-handed hitter quickly discovered that she couldn't push off her back foot. Instead, she needed to use a swiveling motion with her hips.
Soon, she was making solid contact in the batting cage.
“All right,” Stidham said, “let's go run.”
It wasn't pretty. It wasn't fast. But Edwards was able to hop along and get from one place to the next.
After a quick trip to the field house to find a brace, Edwards went into the dugout and told the coaches she was ready. She figured it'd be a few innings before Stidham put her into the game.
Instead, the coach called timeout in the top of the second inning and immediately inserted Edwards as the designated player.
She didn't even have her cleats on.
“You know how you have nightmares about stuff where you're naked?” Edwards said. “It was kind of like that.”
Teammates scurried to help her with her shoes, her helmet and her bat.
As soon as she stepped out of the dugout, the Broncho fans rose to their feet and gave her a standing ovation.
For Kacie, mighty Kacie, was advancing to the bat.
No one knew what to expect, not even Edwards. She planned to take a pitch or two, just to settle in. Then the first pitch came in high and inside — right where she likes them.
“And I gave it all I had,” Edwards said.
The ball sailed into right field, and when Edwards saw it clear the fence, she couldn't believe it. Her jaw dropped. Her eyes bulged.
She didn't go into a fist-pumping, home-run trot ala Kirk Gibson, by the way. Remembering a story she'd seen about a girl who hurt her knee while running the bases, she went into a home-run walk.
As she rounded second, she saw Stidham crying in the third-base coach's box.
“And that's when I lost it,” Edwards said. “My teammates were crying. I was crying. The parents in the stands were crying.
“It was just crazy. I couldn't believe it had actually happened.”
But wait, there was more.
After grounding out in the third and being intentionally walked in the fifth, she came to the plate in the seventh with the bases loaded and the Bronchos trailing 6-5.
She swung and missed the first pitch, a ball that was outside, but when the second pitch came inside, she pulled it down the right-field line. Two runs scored, and Edwards' single delivered the eventual game-winning run in an 8-6 victory.
She is quick to point out that all of her teammates had a hand in the team's success this past weekend. Megan Whitmire had a huge hit Friday. Brittany Weaver had another huge hit Saturday. Devyn Frazier made a diving catch Sunday.
“Everybody had their moment,” Edwards said.
None of them, though, were bigger than hers. A season was saved, and a legend was born.
“I'm not going to let this season go down the toilet,” she said, “just because I'm missing a ligament.”