, Muskogee, OK


May 25, 2013

OU rallies around tragedy

It is a great story.

It’s hard to write it like that, but there it is. It’s a great story.

It was an awful event, more than one really, because the first round of tornadoes arrived Sunday and the state was rocked and homes were lost and lives were changed forever.

The following day, it was so much worse. Lives lost, many of them children, the same patch of real estate, between Oklahoma City and Norman, crushed again by nature in its most awful form.

Yet, this is what Brianna Turang, Sooner left fielder and nine-hole hitter (just don’t let it fool you; she’s hitting better than .400) had to say about it maybe 20 minutes after OU routed Texas A&M 10-2 Friday night at Marita Hynes Field.

“It’s been devastating,” she said, “but it’s been an amazing experience to watch these people come together.”

That’s the thing.

What happened, happened, but the story is not what happened. The story is the response to what happened.

In Oklahoma City Friday, the Sooner baseball team posted another shutout, may have pulled itself permanently off the NCAA bubble and put itself in position to beat Kansas State today and play for a conference championship Sunday.

In Norman, the top-ranked small-diamond Sooners turned a close game into a laugher in the space of a half-inning, run-ruling the Aggies and moving a victory from the Women’s College World Series.

There is a connection.

Thursday, the Sooners held court with the softball team that claimed Sydney Angle, a 9-year-old who died Monday at Plaza Towers Elementary. Friday, Sydney’s sister, Casey, spent OU’s super regional victory in the Sooner dugout, all but the moments she left the dugout to be OU’s batgirl.

Probably, standing in the batter’s box, as Keilani Ricketts was in the top of the first inning, with Lauren Chamberlain aboard at second base, the Sooner pitcher and slugger was only thinking about finding a pitch to hit hard.

Still, somewhere in there, she was trying to deliver for Sydney, Casey, all of the tornado victims in Moore and elsewhere and a state that has rallied around itself, showing the world what it’s all about.

“We’re just trying to be strong for Oklahoma,” Ricketts said. “I think we’re definitely feeding off of the strength that we see in the people here.”

Turang is a darn good hitter, and doesn’t need much help to go 3 for 3 at the plate (raising her average to .420; are you kidding, a nine-hole hitter who hits .420), but she might have been pretty plugged in, too.

“We want to win for everybody here, and hopefully bring that joy to our state and continue to represent,” she said. “Because everybody fights for each other here, not just on the field but off the field.”

Ricketts is typically in mid-grin, a happy young woman who wears the pressure of being, maybe, the best softball player in the world very well, but there was this really cool moment after the game when she talked about meeting Sydney’s team.

“They just love the game so …,” she said, stammering for the right words and finding her options too limiting. “I don’t even know how to describe it.”

Like even she could be taught a thing or two about how fun it is to play the game.

“I think,” she said, “just by trying to inspire them, they inspired us.”

That was easy to believe the way Ricketts came out of the gate, striking out the first five Aggies she faced, and it was easy to see in the sixth inning, when OU’s collective might unraveled both Mel Dumezich and Lauren Ainsley, the latest two pitchers to suffer an early exit to the Sooner bats.

When Aggie shortstop Taran Tyler looked to get the lead runner at third base, only to realize Amber Garza couldn’t get their fast enough to force out Jessica Vest, thereby allowing an infield single to Turang and putting the bat in Chamberlain’s hands with no base open, well, that was it.

Chamberlain, Georgia Casey and Shelby Pendley all walked, Chamberlain came home on a  wild pitch and Ricketts delivered an opposite-field three-run smash the whole stadium might have figured she was about to hit anyway.

The game ended, a packed house began to leave, but only sort of. Hundreds remained, for autographs, for pictures with their favorite team and maybe just to mill around in the afterglow of a feel-good victorious night.

It’s like everybody feels like they’re a part of something.

They are.

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