OKLAHOMA CITY (March 29, 2014) – It was one of those days when everything seemed right for Oklahoma Christian softball.
On a picture-perfect Saturday afternoon, the Lady Eagles finally got to hold their “grand-opening” celebration for their new $3.9 million home, Tom Heath Field at Lawson Plaza. Then OC capped the day with a history-making win, recording its third straight shutout – its first such streak in five years – and giving coach Tom Heath his 600th career win by beating Rogers State 5-0.
OC (23-11, 8-4 Heartland Conference) will carry a 10-game winning streak into a showdown on Tuesday at defending NCAA Division II national champion Central Oklahoma, which has won 18 of its last 19 games.
“That’s a good stretch for us right now, and some of those are conference games, that we really put an emphasis on,” Heath said. “We’re on a roll right now. Our pitching and defense is very good and we’re getting some timely hits right now, which we needed.
“We couldn’t have had a better day. The weather was perfect. We had a big crowd out there today to honor those people that started the program, and especially the Lawson family, that have meant so much to the softball program. They donated the money to build this facility and have been a big part of our program the last several years. It was a very nice occasion.”
Before the game, OC honored four people who played key roles in the development of the university’s softball program – Distinguished Professor of Bible Stafford North, who, as OC’s executive vice president in the mid 1990s, approved the creation of the program; current OC Athletic Director Curtis Janz; and Ricky and Kelly Lawson, whose gift made possible the construction of the stadium.
Each of the four threw out a “first pitch,” then OC freshman Shea Coats went out and pitched a gem of her own. Coats (12-2) tossed a complete-game six-hitter for her second shutout of Rogers State (10-24, 4-11) in as many days.
The Hillcats only seriously threatened once, loading the bases with one out in the seventh inning, but Coats struck out Kassie Brugmann and retired Jamie Kowalick on a short fly ball to left field to end the game.
In between Coats’ two shutouts against the Hillcats, Taylor Mosher threw one of her own. The last time OC recorded three straight shutouts was in 2009, when the Lady Eagles blanked Northwestern Oklahoma State twice on March 29, then did the same to Ottawa (Kan.) five days later.
“Our pitching was awesome for all three games,” Heath said. “Everybody threw very well. They had their stuff and I’m very proud of our pitching staff. They’re tough. It was a good weekend for them.”
OC jumped early on Rogers State starter Yolanda Rios (7-16), scoring two runs in the first inning on RBI singles by Niki Davidson and Courtney Starr. Lauren Pittman singled to lead off the second for OC and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Kala Ratliff.
The Lady Eagles rode that 3-0 lead until the fifth, when Lauren Chatigny drew a leadoff walk from Rogers State reliever Brooklyne Harbert, and Martha Thomas followed one out later with a no-doubt blast over the right-field wall. It was Thomas’ second homer of the series and her sixth of the season and bumped up her season batting average to .462.
“Moose is seeing the ball well,” Heath said of Thomas. “She is one that pitchers fear to throw to. She can hit the long ball, like she did today. She hits the ball hard. We needed that. We hadn’t scored in a couple of innings and we needed to add a couple of runs, so she took care of that with one big swing.”
After the game, OC assistant coaches Jessica Ruckman and Steve Gault surprised Heath at home plate, presenting him with a plaque noting his 600th career win. Heath started the OC program in 1995 and has been the Lady Eagles’ only head coach.
“When it was announced, I didn’t know what was going on, because I really haven’t kept up with the wins,” Heath said. “Like I told them team in the locker room, honestly, every day is a new day for me. I just take care of business that day. I just did not realize I was that close. But it is an honor. I’m glad I’ve been around long enough to get to that 600th win.”
This is the Lady Eagles’ first season to enjoy the Lawson Softball Complex. Among the amenities at the stadium are a locker room with individual wooden lockers, couches and a flat-screen television; four coaches’ offices; a training room; laundry facilities; a VIP/players’ lounge, from which one can view the field; an umpire’s room; a spacious visitors’ locker room; permanent restrooms; a press box; about 300 permanent seats; a separate indoor training facility and a 34-vehicle parking lot.
The primary contractor for the stadium was RGroup Inc. of Choctaw, which is owned by OC alumnus and former men’s basketball player Dillon Ripley.