OU senior pitcher Keilani Ricketts has developed a different outlook on life following the events in Moore, Oklahoma.
The OU softball team wearing T-shirts which show a logo in honor of those affected by the tornado in Moore.
A poster in OU's dugout during Saturday's game against Texas A&M.
Sydney Angle, 9, was one of seven children who died inside Plaza Towers Elementary School Monday afternoon.
NORMAN, Okla. -
In the days following the natural disaster in Moore, Oklahoma which resulted in two dozen fatalities and millions of dollars in property damage, Americans from outside the state most commonly commend Oklahomans for their strength during such a crisis.
When it comes to college athletics, arguably no team in the state has displayed that attribute better in 2013 than the University of Oklahoma softball team. Going into Saturday's second game of their NCAA Super Regional series against Texas A&M, OU had won 51 of its 55 games.
The Sooners put on an incredible performance yet again, shutting out the Aggies 8-0 in five innings. Of their five postseason games, Oklahoma has triggered the 7-run mercy rule four times, including Saturday. With the win, OU clinched the series to advance to their third consecutive NCAA College World Series.
What can make a "strong" team even better -- Perspective and an added source of pride.
Monday's tragedy indirectly did just that through a collective willingness to help others in a time of need.
Since Monday, the Sooners have sported T-shirts, signs, and batting helmets with a logo of the Sooner state. In the shape, there's a word: HOME. It's a proud reminder of who this team represents now. It's no longer just the university in Norman, but the entire state Oklahoma.
"I was actually pretty close to the tornado; I was in Moore when it happened," OU sophomore infielder Shelby recalled during the postgame press conference Saturday. "It was just devastating. Being able to play for the state of Oklahoma and bringing joy to them is just a great feeling."
One could perceive this as added pressure to the team which is the overwhelming favorite to win the national championship. But to these Sooners, that's not an issue.
"It hasn't really been a distraction; we're just trying to really focus on the positives and to be able to bring good spirits to this state," said senior All-American pitcher Keilani Ricketts. "We have had a good season and we have had great crowds so far. We're just trying to look at the positives and try to keep up the work so far and try to enjoy the people here."
Softball fans in the region have enjoyed Ricketts, one of the best college pitchers ever, even more so during this trying week. Keilani is nine-year-old Sydney Angle's favorite player. But Sydney didn't get to tell Keilani that this week. She was one of seven children who died inside Plaza Towers Elementary School when the tornado leveled the building.
Sydney's initials and youth softball jersey number "SA #35" were written on a large team poster which sat in OU's dugout during Saturday's game. One of the local youth softball teams from Moore visited with the Sooners Thursday as did Sydney's family the following day.
According to head coach Patty Gasso, it noticeably impacted her three-time All-American pitcher.
"I saw Keilani in a different place by recognizing that people are so excited to see her and kids who haven't had much joy in the last couple of days," Gasso said.
"That meant something important to her and I think it just took a lot of pressure off of her walking into this Super Regional saying: ‘I've been blessed with so many gifts and I've just got to be able to use them and stop being so stressed about trying to be perfect.' A lot of this has changed our team in a wonderful way."
Perhaps it affected this team in a way which will ultimately make this OU team different from the previous two seasons -- national champions. Oklahoma's first game in the 2013 College Softball World Series is against Michigan on Thursday, May 30.
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