Yes, Oklahoma, celebrate.
The Oklahoma Sooners softball team defeated Tennessee, 4-0, on Tuesday night to win the national championship at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.
Yes, in Oklahoma City. A metro area that has experienced two rounds of devastating and deadly tornadoes over the past three weeks, including the hit-hard communities of Moore and El Reno. An area of the country that has become synonymous in recent days with suffering and struggling … but also a spirit of strength, community and rebuilding.
Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso pulled no punches in her post-game remarks to the media. She was proud of this team. And they all were playing for the residents of their state.
“You’ve heard a lot about it this week, and that’s who we were representing,” Gasso said. “More than ourselves. We had a lot of people we wanted to bring pride to, make happy, and just forget about the things that have been going on for the last three weeks or so.”
It had all become so much more than just softball.
Not that the softball wasn’t remarkable in and of itself.
The Sooners, which had been the prohibitive favorites to win the title at the beginning of the season, began the year ranked No. 1 in the nation, a spot they never relinquished.
They led the nation in both scoring and earned run average and finished with a record of 57-4. That’s not a misprint. 57-4.
“”They are an amazing team,” Tennessee coach Ralph Weekly said of his team’s opponent. “I spent nine years with our national team and I think that Oklahoma team would have beaten most of the other countries that we played, even the great ones.”
And while Oklahoma won 13 consecutive games to earn their championship, most in convincing fashion, they didn’t all come without drama. Game 1 of the championship series forced Oklahoma to bounce back from a 3-run deficit in the bottom of the 11th to force a 12th inning, where Lauren Chamberlain hit a walk-off home run to win the game, 5-3.
They were determined and resilient, much like the residents they were playing for.
And it wasn’t just the residents of the area that took notice. Country music star Toby Keith, who hails from Moore, Okla., was in the stands for the team’s run to the title.
“They’ve done a lot, and the other teams that are here from out of state have been helping, too,” Keith told The Oklahoman. “A lot of these girls have gone out and helped with cleanup and stuff on their day off. We’re trying to get a little closure for everyone.”
The stands were also full of homemade signs, rooting both their Sooners and their state on to victory.
And on Tuesday night, that victory became a reality.
So yes, Oklahoma, celebrate. You have a softball team – and a state – to be proud of.
(Image: The Oklahoman)