MONMOUTH, Ore. (AP) - A senior with a .153 career batting average hits her first home run, a three-run blast, to help Western Oregon move closer to a spot in the NCAA's Division II softball playoffs.
That was improbable. To 70-year-old Central Washington coach Gary Frederick, what happened next was "unbelievable."
Sara Tucholsky, the 5-foot-2-inch right fielder, sprinted to first as the ball cleared the center field fence Saturday in Ellensburg, Wash. Given that she had never hit a ball out of the park, even in practice, she was excited. So excited she missed first base.
A couple yards past the bag, she stopped to go back and touch it. But she collapsed with a knee injury.
"I was in a lot of pain," she told The Oregonian newspaper on Tuesday. "Our first-base coach was telling me I had to crawl back to first base. 'I can't touch you,' she said, 'or you'll be out. I can't help you."'
Despite the agony, Tucholsky crawled back to first.
Western Oregon coach Pam Knox ran onto the field and talked to the umpires. The umpires said the coach could place a substitute runner at first. Tucholsky would be credited with a single.
"The umpires said a player cannot be assisted by their team around the bases," Knox said. "But it is her only home run in four years. She is going to kill me if we sub and take it away. But at same time I was concerned for her. I didn't know what to do."
An opponent did.
Central Washington first baseman Mallory Holtman, the all-time home run leader in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, asked the umpire if she and her teammates could carry Tucholsky around the bases.
The umpires said nothing in the rule book precluded help from the opposition.
Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace lifted Tucholsky and resumed the home-run walk, stopping to let Tucholsky touch the bases with her good leg.
"We started laughing when we touched second base," Holtman said. "I said, 'I wonder what this must look like to other people."'
Holtman got her answer when they arrived at home plate. Many people were in tears.
The second-inning homer sent Western Oregon on its way to a 4-2 victory, ending Central Washington's chances of winning the conference and advancing to the playoffs.
"In the end, it is not about winning and losing so much," Holtman said. "It was about this girl. She hit it over the fence and was in pain and she deserved a home run."
Frederick, the Central Washington coach, said he later got a clarification from an umpiring supervisor, who said NCAA rules allow a substitute to run for a player who is injured after a home run.
The clarification doesn't matter to those who witnessed the act of sportsmanship.
"Those girls did something awesome to help me get my first home run," Tucholsky said. "It makes you look at athletes in a different way. It is not always all about winning but rather helping someone in a situation like that."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)