The memories of a decorated career came flooding back for Brooke Foster as she danced around the bases at Lovelace Stadium on Sunday.
The senior developed into one of the best players in school history on that field, where she pounded out hit after hit.
The last of those hits was the sweetest of all.
Foster came to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning with the Mean Green trailing 18th-ranked Tulsa by a run with the bases loaded.
Foster hammered the first pitch she saw over the left-field fence for a grand slam, giving UNT an 11-8 win.
Foster jumped in the air as she watched the ball sail away. UNT coach Tracey Kee immediately dashed toward home plate, where the Mean Green gathered to slap Foster on the back, the helmet and anywhere else they could reach in the middle of the scrum.
“It didn’t hit me until I hit home plate that I had won the game,” Foster said. “I had not swung at the first pitch, which is something I usually do, in three games. I did it then. It was crazy. It felt really good.”
The hit capped not only a dramatic win but also a milestone weekend for UNT, which won twice in a three-game Conference USA series against the Golden Hurricane and set a record for wins in a season with 30. Tulsa (47-7, 19-4) came into the weekend having already wrapped up the C-USA title and had not lost consecutive games all season before dropping its last two games to UNT.
The Mean Green (30-21, 14-9) entered the series knowing that its performance would have a huge impact on its prospects at this week’s conference tournament in Boca Raton, Fla. UNT was in third place in the league standings but faced the prospect of falling all the way to eighth if it lost all three games to Tulsa.
That scenario would have left UNT as the No. 8 seed in an eight-team, single-elimination tournament. The Mean Green avoided that fate and gained a load of confidence heading into the event. UNT’s opponent has yet to be determined.
“We needed a series like this,” said Kee, whose team had lost five straight heading into the weekend. “We have played some tough teams down the stretch, including today. Hopefully this will propel us into the conference tournament.”
UNT will have plenty of momentum after rallying against Tulsa, which took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first on three walks and two hits, including an RBI single to center by Cierra Hughes.
UNT answered with five runs in the bottom of the first as Jordan Terry’s double helped chase Tulsa ace Aimee Creger from the game after she recorded just one out while facing six batters.
Tulsa brought on Bailey Erwin, who gave up a two-run double to Jackie Miller before working her way out of the jam.
Creger was charged with all five runs UNT scored in the first and ended up allowing eight earned runs in 3 1/3 innings on the weekend, a staggering total considering she had allowed just 25 in 168 2/3 innings on the season before facing UNT.
The expectation heading into series was that it would shape up to be a battle between Creger and Ashley Kirk, UNT’s all-time leader in wins with 59.
Kirk struggled just as much as Creger, allowing seven runs, including four in the top of the second inning. Kirk walked three, hit a batter and allowed two hits in the second inning alone, including a two-run single to center by Hughes, before UNT turned to Lauren Poole.
The senior doesn’t have Kirk’s power, but did a masterful job of keeping Tulsa off balance. The Golden Hurricane had a 7-6 lead when Poole came on. Tulsa managed just one run the rest of the way.
“For Lauren to come in, spin the ball and balance the plate was great,” Kee said. “She had a fabulous weekend.”
Poole shut Tulsa out for four straight innings, which gave UNT time to rally. The Mean Green capitalized when Dani Hoff delivered an RBI single to center in the bottom of the sixth.
Tulsa regained the lead in the top of the seventh when Catherine Horner doubled and scored on Jodi Edmiston’s sacrifice fly.
Tulsa’s late run set the stage for Foster. The Mean Green loaded the bases when Miller walked, Shelbie Smith reached on a throwing error by Tulsa third baseman Magee Withee and Bryana Wade popped up a bunt that fell for a single a few feet in front of home plate, just out of the reach of three Tulsa players who converged on the ball
“I didn’t even see it,” Wade said. “When I got down there to first, I realized I was safe. I just took off. That was my first instinct.”
Wade’s bunt single loaded the bases to set up Foster, who entered the weekend just four hits short of tying Katya Muller’s school record for career hits with 222.
Foster had 221 when she came up in the bottom of the seventh.
“I was just looking to get a hit,” Foster said. “I swung at the first pitch. It was right where I wanted it.”
Foster thought a little about her place in UNT history and all she has accomplished during her career with the Mean Green after the ball sailed over the fence and she rounded the bases at Lovelace Stadium for the final time.
“It was really cool to leave like that,” Foster said. “I have so many good memories of playing here.”
One final home run turned out to be one of the best of them all.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
North Texas 11, Tulsa 8
Tulsa 340 000 1 — 8 6 3
North Texas 510 001 4 — 11 13 1
Amiee Creger, Bailey Erwin (1) and Catherine Horner; Ashley Kirk, Lauren Poole (6) and Bryana Wade. WP —Poole (6-5). LP — Erwin (13-3). 2B — Tulsa: Shelby Blanton, Catherine Horner; UNT: Jordan Terry, Jackie Miller. HR — UNT: Brooke Foster, Bryana Wade. Records — Tulsa 47-7, 19-4; UNT 30-21, 14-9.