STEPHENVILLE – The road to 200 wins has had its twists, turns, and bumps.
But No. 200 was perfect.
Tarleton right-hander Grace Garcia fired the second perfect game in Tarleton history and the first since Caryn Holbrook on March 29, 1997, against Eastern New Mexico. Garcia went all six innings, going 18 up and 18 down with five strikeouts. Brittany Coe caught all six innings of it. Tarleton defeated Texas A&M-Commerce 8-0 in six innings to cap off an undefeated home tournament.
“That was incredible. I’m usually not one to be at a loss for words, but I am,” said head coach Mark Cumpian. “Grace is such a talented young lady and I’m so happy for her. Our defense played incredible, the offense was on fire, and I don’t think there was a single player in that dugout that wasn’t going to give everything they had for their teammate today. It sounds cliché, but it was perfect.”
After a plethora of delays to get through the first five batters of the game, Austin Germain began a run of three straight two-bag base hits by the Texans. Germain ripped a line drive into right that skipped away from the defender and allowed her to reach second. Then Kelci Hill followed with a sinking line drive double into left field before Katy Schaefer plated them both with a two-run double into the left field corner for a 2-0 Texan lead early.
While Garcia was cruising through the Lion order, the Texans tacked on another in the bottom of the second – again with Germain serving as a catalyst. The sophomore from San Antonio dropped an RBI double down the right field line to bring home MacKenzie Peterson from second for a 3-0 Tarleton lead.
The offense continued to scorch the Commerce pitching staff in the third as Schaefer and Rowland ripped back-to-back doubles to lead off the inning. Kayla Wallace singled through the right side and then stole second to get the offense set up again. Brittany Coe plated one with an RBI single before a double steal from Wallace and Hayden Fox capped off the three-run third for a 6-0 lead.
After Garcia sat the Lions down in order for the fourth consecutive inning, the double parade continued when Germain and Kelci Hill led off the fourth with back-to-back two-baggers to bring home another run. Hill’s double was the seventh of the game, breaking a long-standing school record (6). The previous record was set against St. Edward’s on March 22, 1999, and has been matched five times since, most recently in 2017.
Tarleton couldn’t push the final run in the fifth, forcing Garcia out to pitch the sixth.
Things got dicey as she fell behind 3-0 to the leadoff hitter, but Garcia rebounded with back-to-back strikes before getting a flyout to Hill in center before sitting down the next two Lions. Hill, Schaefer, and Rowland loaded the bases in the sixth before Jordan Dickerson drew a walk-off walk to clinch the perfecto for Garcia and the milestone win for Cumpian.
After spending six years as the team’s top assistant, Cumpian wasted no time in securing win No. 1 in his debut on February 3, 2017. Haley Freyman twirled a one-hit, complete game shutout to beat Washburn 5-0 in Magnolia, Arkansas.
That win proved to be the cornerstone for the beginning of Tarleton’s best runs of success since its 1996 inception.
With Cumpian at the helm, he became the first head coach in Tarleton State University Athletics history to reach an NCAA national postseason in his rookie coaching season. The Texans qualified for the South Central Region with 35 wins in his debut season.
The next two years, Cumpian’s Texans were a dominant force in the Lone Star Conference. Tarleton won 50 games for the first time in program history in 2018 and stretched it out to 109 wins from 2018-20, the most for any Lone Star Conference team over that span.
Under Cumpian, Tarleton reached Division II national powerhouse status.
Then the road to national dominance took a detour, but the vision for the program never did. The goal was always about competing and finding ways to win.
With the Texans on top of the LSC standings at 19-4 in the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season and put all recruiting on hold for the next year. Meanwhile, Tarleton was moving to NCAA Division I and the Western Athletic Conference.
The Texans won 17 games in their first Division I season under Cumpian, but the following season Cumpian was back to his winning ways. Tarleton turned it around for year No. 2 in Division I and won 30 games for the fourth time in Cumpian’s first six seasons. The turnaround from 2021 to 2022 was the 17th best turnaround in all of NCAA Division I.
“That first season in Division I taught me a lot as a coach. It taught me that winning any game in Division I is hard, and I should never take a single one for granted,” said Cumpian. “These accomplishments aren’t mine alone. We have had an incredible group of players and coaches along the way.
“200 is great, but we’re nowhere close to done,” he added.
There’s an old quote about a road to someplace being paved with good intentions, but for Tarleton Softball, the only destination the Texans are interested in is conference championships and national postseason opportunities.
That road is paved with victories and Cumpian is racking up the miles.