It took 56 innings, seven NCAA records, 51 innings of pitching from one player, and a sunset and sunrise before the Western Athletic Conference crowned a softball champion.
In the end, the University of Utah finished triumphant after battling Creighton in back-to-back 31- and 25-inning games for the WAC title Saturday night and early Sunday morning.Creighton eked out a 1-0 victory in the 31-inning game - the longest in NCAA history - to force a second game in the double-elimination tourney.
That game ended after 25 innings - at 5:08 a.m. MDT Sunday - when Utah's Christina Freeman scored from second on an error by Creighton first baseman Teir Wilber to give the Lady Utes a 4-3 victory and a berth in the 20-team NCAA softball regional field.
"It all seems like such a blur to me," Utah coach Jo Evans said. "I can't even remember everything that happened. We had so many chances to win the game, as did Creighton. We look over here and feel badly for Creighton, it's a shame that somebody has to lose."
Besides the record-setting 31 innings in the first game, Utah set an NCAA record for most at-bats by a team with 114 in the first game. Creighton sent 106 batters to the plate.
The Lady Utes also stranded 34 runners in the first game to establish a record. In the second game, Utah left 31 on base and Creighton 25, both of which bettered the previous record.
Individual records were also set for:
- Most hits in a game: 7, Charmelle Green, Utah, ties record.
- Most walks in a game: 6, Wendy Steward, Utah, all intentional.
- Most innings pitched in a game - 31, Kelly Brookhart, Creighton and Janet Womack, Utah.
- Most at-bats by a player - 14, set by four Utah players; four other players in the game batted 13 times, bettering the previous record.
Brookhart's numbers were astounding.
She won the first game with 31 innings of shutout pitching, despite giving up 25 hits.
Then she came on in relief in the fifth inning of the second game and threw 201/3 innings in that game. And all of that was on top of a seven-inning shutout of New Mexico earlier Saturday to put Creighton into the championship game.
"After a while my arm just went numb and I really didn't feel it at all," Brookhart said of her 581/3 innings of pitching.
Brookhart and Womack combined to throw 763 pitches. Brookhart tossed 416 and Womack 347. Brookhart, a senior, also finished her career by pitching 91 1-3 innings without allowing an earned run. She had a consecutive scoreless streak of 81 innings, which ranks third in NCAA history.
"I don't know how the kids kept that intensity level for 56 innings," marveled Utah's Evans, the WAC coach of the year, following the game. "I hope people realize what an incredible wear that was on the players - both physically and emotionally."