Redemption on the Softball Field?

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Redemption on the Softball Field? How many times in life does the same scenario happen twice? Never. But it did.

On Friday night the Oklahoma women’s softball team was playing Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The score was 5-2 Oklahoma in the bottom of the 7th inning which is the last inning in women’s softball.

Alabama’s 3rd baseman Marisa Runyon was at bat with the bases loaded and two outs. The pitch sequence went like this, fast ball strike, two fastballs missing the outside corner, a curve for a strike, one low for a ball over the plate, which brought it to a 3-2 count.

Runyon swung at the next pitch, a change-up on the inside of the plate just under her hands. Strike three. Game over. Oklahoma wins game one of the best of three series. One more win and Oklahoma goes home to play in the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, just down the road from their University home in Norman.

Tremendously disappointed, and the horrid pain showing on her face where TV had zeroed in, Runyon takes that long walk from home plate to the Alabama dugout, the loneliest walk in her world. Her teammates try to cheer her up. There have been other games where she was the heroine.

When I coached boys’ baseball teams in long summers past, one of the most difficult elements to teach was the ability to forget the bad game, leave it in that day, and go on to the next game. No lingering thoughts that can affect your next performance. Girls’ softball teams were only beginning to organize when I came to the end of my coaching days, but girls and boys are no different in trying to forget that bad performance.

The Alabama team rallies on Saturday afternoon behind their ace pitcher, who, as we used to say in baseball lingo, was bringing it, meaning the fastball was fast, and the other pitches curving, rising, or whatever she asked of them.

Another of Alabama’s players hit one over the left field fence with one on, and Alabama beat Oklahoma 2-0 to force a deciding 3rd game.

Runyon for the second game in a row went hitless. Maybe the game the night before was lingering.

Then came last night and the 3rd deciding game, Alabama got a run mid-early for a 1-0 lead. Lauren Chamberlain, the Oklahoma 1st baseman, and the most prolific home run hitter in the NCAA record books, hit a homer with one on in the 5th inning to give Oklahoma a 2-1 lead.

Runyon was scheduled to hit in the bottom of the 5th inning, but Alabama’s head coach pulled her for a pitch-hitter, who struck out on a check swing with a 3-2 count. Under softball rules, Runyon could re-enter the game, and she did at 3rd base.

Then in the 6th Chamberlain hit another homer, this time a solo, to give the Sooners a 3-1 lead, insurmountable the way their left-handed pitcher was shutting down the Alabama hitters.

In the bottom of the 6th inning, though in an unorthodox manner, Alabama loaded the bases with two outs. The batter striding to the plate was Marisa Runyon. Surely fate could not double-down on her, could it? Yes, it could, if it so chose.

Nobody but Runyon knew what was going through her head. She was hitless for the series, and in this same scenario had failed only about 24 hours before in the 7th inning instead of the 6th.

Whatever Runyon had on her mind was not the night before. If I could recall my old coaching days, I would say she was sitting on the 1st pitch, which means she knew the Sooner pitcher was coming with that fastball, intending to throw it about knee level.

It was a fastball, but just above the belt, in Runyon’s wheelhouse, as the saying goes, where she likes to hit the ball. Her hitless streak was gone, and so was the ball, over the right field fence. Nothing cheap about it. It was long gone.

Her teammates cheered her up the night before, but she cheered them up on this night, putting Alabama up 5-3.

Alabama’s pitcher shut Oklahoma down in the 7th inning, and Alabama was going to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma, only a long bicycle ride from Norman to Oklahoma City, if the team chose, would stay home.

There were tears among some of the Oklahoma players. None among the Alabama players.

Life doesn’t happen twice. But on those rare occasions when a trip to the Women’s College World Series is on the line, maybe it does.

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