Friday, June 05, 2009

Home Again

While a restful return to normalcy is welcome, the excitement and heightened emotions of the past week are still right under the surface.

We are coming down emotionally from seeing the University of Georgia Bulldogs softball team not only participate in the Women’s College World Series but coming close to making it to the finals. Following that tournament with a trip to Amarillo to visit my sister and her husband and families there gives me even more to think about and to try to absorb. Never mind that there is laundry to do, weeds to pull, and much catching up with our usual life at Woodsong to accomplish.

We arrived at Oklahoma City and settled in on Wednesday, the night before WCWS’s opening game. Our son Gerry and the Georgia team, where he is assistant coach, had arrived early in the week. Our daughter-in-law Vickie had been given permission by her doctor the day before to drive there with Geri Ann, and they were already there. We met up with our daughter Mary Ellen and our granddaughter Brianna at the park at noon on Thursday. From then on, Geri Ann and Brianna were inseparable, and we all enjoyed watching their teenage enthusiasm and antics.

Although University of Washington put us into the losers’ bracket that very first game, we were not discouraged. It takes two losses to be eliminated from this tourney. (Washington ended up winning the World Series the following Tuesday night against first-ranked University of Florida, and we were quite aware that losing that first game was no reason for shame. In fact, at that level, any loss is no cause for shame. Just being there to participate is an honor, but Georgia women were determined to make their first appearance at the WCWS count.)

We were able to enjoy the Friday off that all teams had until that evening when the four winners from Thursday were to play. We met up with our niece Cyndi and her friend Gwen for lunch. It was fun for Geri Ann and Bri to get acquainted just a bit with their dad and mom’s cousin from far-off Hereford, Texas. Of course, we wished that Cyndi’s daughter Tori and husband Randy had been there, since we had not seen them since their wedding in that city five years ago. But if they had been, we would not have seen Cyndi, who was house sitting for them.

Saturday we were to play two losing teams from Friday night. With a second loss, any team would go home. We played our 11 a.m. game against Missouri, who had startled those watching their Super Regional with a mercy rule victory over UCLA. We eliminated Missouri from the World Series with a 5-2 win, and we did the same to Michigan that night with a 7-5 win.

That put us in the Final Four on Sunday. We would play unbeaten Washington, and Alabama would play unbeaten Florida. If Georgia or Alabama--both teams from the losers’ bracket--won their first game, they would have to play and win a second game to send either of these unbeaten teams home.

We were going into Sunday games with our senior pitcher Christie Hamilton worn out from the two games in high heat on Saturday. In an excruciatingly long game, we played Washington from 12 noon until 4:20 in nearly l00 degree weather. We used four different pitchers--including center fielder Taylor Schlopy after Sarah McCloud and a brief stint by Hamilton. Finally, freshman pitcher Erin Arevalo was put in with the score tied at 8-8. In the ninth inning, we loaded the bases and Brianna Hesson battled until a force walk brought fleet-footed Lasaira Daniels calmly to home plate to claim the 9-8 win and the opportunity to play the Huskies again that night after Alabama played Florida.

We wanted to see Alabama play Florida because we had gotten acquainted with Lauren Parker’s grandparents, relatives, and friends sitting in front of us. (Lauren’s life story of injuries and challenges was inspiring as most of these young women’s stories are.) But we had to get out of that heat and we scurried to a place to eat with air conditioning and a ESPN. We even were able to have Gerry with us briefly as he hurried to eat and return to the team.

We were disappointed Alabama lost to Florida, but proud that three teams that day were from the Southeastern Conference. We returned to the park for a 9:30 game and were disappointed again when we played Washington for the third time in this tournament and lost. Washington would win from Florida on Monday and Tuesday nights to become the 2009 champions.

The young Georgia team with only two seniors and no juniors knew it was an achievement to be the only team there that defeated Washington. In fact, the Bulldogs scored more runs against Danielle Lawrie than any other team this year.

My favorite Georgia player was senior Kristin Schnake, who graduated from Nashville, Illinois, high school. She led the team in accepting their defeat with celebration that they had come that far. No one plays harder than Schnake. No one encourages other players more than Schnake. No one has a better attitude than this hard working agriculture student and athlete. No one could have made us prouder than the way the team rejoiced even in defeat.

We would have loved to have stayed for the final two games, but instead we wanted to get on Route 40 to Amarillo. We arrived at Rosemary and Phil’s Monday afternoon and feasted with them and Shiloh at supper. Before our final good-bye visit on Wednesday morning, we had also seen Candy, Gloria and Herman, Jennifer and Trevor, Tosha and Jeremy, Desi, and Eric, and we were able to meet Allie Jean, the l0-month old princess of the Amarillo Parks family. We missed a few of the families including Philip Todd and Jenna and Philip Ray, who are now stationed in Hawaii, where Desi was headed the next morning to spend six weeks with her uncle’s family. But it was a satisfying visit, and we left in cool weather under the big Texas sky with the highway bordered with mesquite and golden fields of wheat ripe unto harvest.

On through the green tree-bordered highways of Oklahoma and Missouri, we enjoyed glorious weather and the cattle on a thousand hills that we passed by. Finally in the flat Missouri Delta, we saw fields of young cotton, rice, and some soybeans. After a bounteous late lunch at a Charleston roadside cafeteria, we were soon in Illinois; and, of course, we drove up to look at Brian’s corn and soybean crops before we returned to Woodsong.

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