A Lifting Decision
Jaryd Cline, Staff Reporter - February 20, 2013
The outcome of the game will surely be forgotten over time. The story will no doubt be passed down as one of the most heartwarming and selfless moments in sports history. For one Central athlete, it was just about doing the right thing even if that hurt the chances of winning.
In four previous seasons, senior Mallory Holtman had never led the Wildcats to the NCAA Division II playoffs. Her senior season was her last chance. Injuries had already forced her to sit out an entire season and she had scheduled knee surgeries for after the season.
Holtman was an offensive juggernaut, her name plastered all over the GNAC offensive record books. She finished her career ranking in the GNAC top ten in hits, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI’s, total bases, runs scored and slugging percentage. She won the conference player of the year award her senior year and is one of only two players in conference history to earn first-team all-GNAC honors four times
The Wildcats were in the thick of the GNAC race; their 12-6 conference record tied them for number two in the GNAC with Western Oregon.
Having lost the first game of the doubleheader, 8-1, the Wildcats now trailed Western Oregon by one game, with only a handful of remaining games before the conference tournament.
Five-foot, two, 125-pound Western Oregon senior Sara Tucholsky, a career .153 hitter, approached the plate in the top of the second inning for the first time in the second game of the double header. With two runners on, the senior connected perfectly with the ball and watched as it left the park-her first career home run. As Tucholsky rounded the bases, she stopped between first and second, realizing she had missed first. As she turned back to touch first base, her cleat caught in the dirt and momentum forced her knee to bend in the opposite direction. The entire stadium went silent as Tucholsky lay moaning in the dirt.
At that moment, umpires mistakenly informed the Western Oregon coaches that Tucholsky would be out if any if her teammates touched her. Coaches were also told that the home run would be changed to a single since Tucholsky couldn’t finish rounding the bases.
Standing close enough to overhear the conversation, Holtman, the all-time home run leader in the GNAC conference at the time, knew the satisfaction of hitting a home run and knew that Tucholsky deserved to round the bases and score.
“It kind of just made me mad, a home run is a home run, it’s not like we’re going to jump over the fence and throw her out,” Holtman said.
Holtman and teammate Liz Wallace, with permission from the umpires, approached Tucholsky.
“Which leg is hurt,” Holtman asked.
Still in an unimaginable amount of pain, Tucholsky pointed to her right knee, tears still flowing from her face. Tucholsky wrapped her arms around Holtman and Wallace’s shoulders as each woman lifted one of Tucholsky’s legs.
As the three made their way to second base, none of them could hold back the giggles and smiles wondering how goofy they looked, lowering Tucholsky’s left leg just enough so the spike of her cleats touched the rubber of each base.
Many of the fans in the crowd had tears in their eyes as they witnessed one of the most heartwarming events in sports history.
As the three reached home base, Holtman and Wallace handed Tucholsky over to her teammates and jogged back to their positions as if nothing had happened.
As she had done exactly 127 times throughout her career at Central on offense, Holtman crossed home plate for the first time as a defensive player.
“We still had a game at that point so I kind of tried to block it out as much as I could and turn around and finish playing,” Holtman said.
Central would go on to lose the game 2-4, officially eliminating them from NCAA tournament contention. In her final home game as a Wildcat, Holtman went 2-3 and walked once.
It wasn’t until a few days later that the national media had caught onto the story. Boxes of letters started to arrive and phones started ringing off the hook. Holtman was flooded with interview requests from many of the nation’s top networks.
“A hundred or so,” Holtman said. “It’s one of those things that might be inconvenient but it’s still really fun.”
Holtman’s experiences with the media were just getting started. She was invited to take part in shows and events throughout the country. She appeared in CBS’s The Early Show and The Inside Edition. The video clip of her and Wallace helping Tucholsky even made it all the way to ESPN’s flagship program, SportsCenter. The three also raised the 12th man flag before the Seattle Seahawks Aug. 22, 2009 home pre-season game against the Denver Broncos.
Holtman’s experiences were capped off by a trip to the ESPY award show hosted by ESPN. With front row seats, in front of Carmelo Anthony, the three (Holtman, Wallace and Tucholsky) watched in awe as they won the 2008 Best Moment in Sports ESPY. Now the whole world watched as host Justin Timberlake pretended to hurt his knee. The moment that inspired millions was recreated as the three helped Timberlake off stage.
The moment is still as vivid in Holtman’s memory as the day it happened. Holtman, now the head coach at Central, hopes to instill the players with the integrity and moral foundation that she had when she was a player.