Six members of the 2012 Central Arkansas softball team will say goodbye to Farris Field on Saturday as the Bears play their final home game of the season at 1 p.m.
And the home finale in what has been the most successful season ever for UCA softball will come against the most successful opponent, as the UCA seniors will close it out with a meeting against No. 5 Oklahoma.
Though Saturday's game with the Sooners marks the last home game, it does not signify the end of the regular season as the Bears must travel to Lake Charles, La. for a pivotal set with McNeese State next weekend to end the regular season and determine conference tournament seeding.
With that series conflicting with UCA commencement exercises, four of the outgoing players will go through a mini graduation on the field with UCA President Tom Courtway and Provost Dr. Steven Runge prior to Saturday's game.
Following the recognition of the senior class of Nicole Beals, Kasey Britt, Kristen Johnson, Kelley Martino, Katie McGregor and Cami Newsome, the graduating seniors — Johnson, Martino, McGregor and Newsome — will have their degrees conferred on the field.
Pregame activities are slated to begin at approximately 12:55.
"This has been an amazing group of young ladies to have in our program," said head coach David Kuhn. "They're great both on and off the field. They'll leave as the winningest class in our program's history and I'm so happy to see them have this amazing season.
"I think it's such an incredible honor to see these ladies graduate and especially to do it on their home field right before their last game on it," he said. "And Oklahoma has a great program, and we're so appreciative of them coming to UCA for this game. It's an amazing opportunity for our team and an amazing way to send these seniors out at home. It's been an honor to coach them."
The Bears, at 35-18, are enjoying their best season in the modest 17-year history of the program. They have eclipsed the 30-win mark for the first time, will end the season with their highest winning percentage ever, and are headed for their first Division I postseason action with their maiden trek to the Southland Conference tournament looming in two weeks. They will finish with a winning conference record for the first time since 2002, and can finish above .600 for just the third time ever.
This year's senior class, which includes part of Kuhn's first signing class at UCA, has improved its win total each season and has averaged 27.5 victories per year in a program that had never had a season of more than 29 wins. The 35 victories this season alone eclipses the total for the three years prior to their arrival (34), and they enter their final home game with 110 total wins to their credit. The previous four-year high was 102 from 1999-2002 as a member of the Gulf South Conference in NCAA Division II.
The group has assaulted the UCA record book not only as a team, but individually – ranking in the career top 10 in more than 40 categories.
Britt, despite missing a large chunk of her senior season with a broken index finger, ranks first or second in 10 career categories including being the school's all-time leader in home runs, RBI, doubles, on base percentage, walks and intentional walks. This season she is on pace to set the record for season batting average and on base percentage.
McGregor, who has played the third-most games in program history, is among the top 10 in RBI, walks, doubles and is the all-time leader in sacrifice flies. Beals, in just two seasons at UCA, is seventh in career batting average and on base percentage and 10th in runs and stolen bases.
Newsome is among the top 10 in 10 pitching categories, and Martino in six. Johnson, a two-time recipient of the Michelle Short Scholarship, is tied for second in school history in combined shutouts.
In their final game at Farris Field, they'll face a Sooners team that is 39-7 and 14-4 in Big 12 play. They are led by 6-foot-2 junior pitcher Keilani Ricketts, a two-time All-American and member of the 2011 US Women's National Team. This season she is 24-6 with a 1.00 ERA and has 292 strikeouts in 189.2 innings with 10 shutouts. She has done plenty of damage at the plate as well, batting .391 with a slugging percentage of .800 and an on-base percentage of .539. She has hit 12 home runs and driven in 32 runs.
Lauren Chamberlain, a freshman infielder, has hit 22 home runs for the Sooners this season and has driven in 57 runs while scoring 46 times. She sports a .362 batting average, .899 slugging percentage and .459 on-base percentage.
UCA is 0-5 all-time against the Sooners, with each previous meeting taking place in Norman, Okla. The Bears lost 8-3 last season in the first meeting since 2008. The two teams met four times from '06-'08, with OU winning those meetings 8-1, 9-0, 7-3 and 23-1.
UCA comes into Saturday's game on a four-game winning streak, and the Bears have won their last six Southland Conference games to move up to fourth in the league standings at 11-7. They will finish no worse than .800 at home this season, entering Saturday's game with a 16-3 mark.