I asked a friend back at MSU to get one of the softball coaches to call me so that I could try and set something up for the girls when they got into town. I know how it is to be far away from home and know that friendly faces always help out. They sent their itinerary to me and Coach Jaye called me Thursday morning to set something up. I called my favorite restaurant in town (Fajitas) to see if they could accommodate a group of 35. They could, so I called Coach Jaye back to set up a time to meet at the restaurant for dinner. When I got there, I met Jen Waterman's parents, both of whom are really, really nice. Once she found out that I was the point of contact for MSU alums in Phoenix, she was really excited to get me as many names as she could.
When the kids arrived at the restaurant, one thing hit me immediately. This was a TEAM. They all hung out together. No one separated themselves or made their own clique. You could tell that they all enjoyed each other's company a lot. Even Kellie "the All American" Wilkerson never stuck out.
The next day (Friday), I could not make it to the games because of a few projects that I had previously planned. However, a friend of mine who is also an alum made it and told me that the girls were very impressive. They won the first game 8-1, and after getting down 4-0 in the 2nd game, came back to pound out 12 unanswered runs to win 12-4.
On Saturday, I showed up at Rose Moffard Sports Complex and found our little hub of Dawgs. One of the trainers immediately came up to me to tell me that we had beaten Alabama at the Hump. I then walked up to Coach Arendsen and said that it really looks like this could be a good weekend for MSU sports. I said that Jennie Finch was on the mound (U of AZ's star pitcher pitched the 1st game so we wouldn't see her in our game) so it looked really good for our game. Coach K said that Jennie Glading was pretty much just as good as Finch, so it wouldn't be any easier. I wished her luck and told the team good luck as they made their way to the field.
When the game started, there really was no awestruck look in our girls' eyes...like they were happy to just be playing the #1 team in the nation. In the 1st inning, we immediately got up 2-0 off of a home run from Iyhia McMichael, then up 5-0 off of Kellie's jack (and she did jack that ball!). The team just never really let up. U of A scored one run but due to a hose that McMichael calls an arm, the runner was almost gunned down at the plate. She threw a ball from dead center field, on a rope, no hop, to home plate. Unfortunately, the ball was bobbled at home plate, allowing Finch to score.
I can remember looking over the bleachers and seeing all of the U of A supporters who only had that one inning to cheer. The few of us who were bleeding Maroon and White were just yelling our heads off. I was the only one who brought a cowbell. I'm sure it was partly due to the fact that I was the only one who didn't have to go through airport security. Everyone was ringing my bell with me. Especially Jen Waterman's mom everytime Jen did something good. We were all cheering as many of the Bulldog cheers as we could remember. They were all commenting on my bark in particular (because it is pretty loud). There weren't many of us there, but I can guarantee we were making more noise than the whole sea of Red and Blue combined. After we added 2 more runs, we all felt a little better. And with the game Kasey was pitching, we felt pretty sure of our girls. Kasey was phenomenal by the way.
Because the game was out of hand most of the day, the "heart" of this Bulldog team didn't really make an appearance until the next game against New Mexico State. I ran home between games because it got downright cold so I had to get a sweatshirt. When I showed up, it was the 3rd inning and State was down 2-0. So I got back in the stands and started barking. Not because of me, I'm sure, but the bats came alive in the bottom of the 3rd. I asked one of the dad's how we did in the 1st two frames and he said nothing: 6 up and 6 down. In the bottom of the 3rd, Kellie came up with one on and tied the game with a crank to the opposite field. No question it was out of there as soon as it left the bat.
We all started yelling again. The girls got down the next inning by another 2 runs. We got one back in the 4th, but were still down by one until the 7th when Kellie once again hit a home run.
In the 8th, NMSU got 2 runs in the top half. All of us in the stands got a little worried but chanted on (the stands were pretty much bare at this point). In between innings, Coach K called them aside and had a little meeting. At the end of it was a "1, 2, 3 BELIEVE" chant. They really do believe in what Coaches K and J are doing. As the girls went back to the dugout, one of them pointed at me and called for my bark a few times which I, of course, happily obliged. The girls then came out to score 3 runs to win it in the bottom of the 8th.
After the games, all of the girls came up to me and thanked me for the support and the yelling and the barking. I told them that after this weekend, after beating two ranked teams, including #1, if this doesn't tell you ladies that you can play, and beat, any team you play the rest of the year, nothing will. They all just had the most wonderful smiles on their faces. Most of them came up to give hugs and all. I have to say that not only did it make my weekend, but it showed me how much I miss rooting for the Dogs live and in person.
I just couldn't believe how they never got down on themselves. No one ever gave up and they were determined to leave this state undefeated. I never saw anyone yelling at anyone else. Throughout every game the girls cheer themselves on with various chants including Cab Calloway's "hidey hidey hidey hi" and a whole slew of others. Even when they were down, they were cheering each other on. If one of the girls hadn't gotten a hit that day, the next time up they'd still be chanting. Out in the crowd, we'd be yelling "come on number two three! you're due!" They just never gave up. I think all of our other teams could benefit from watching these girls. To have an All-American like Kellie to fight through ADD to earn academic honors and to cut off 13 inches of her hair to give to a cancer patient so they could make themselves a wig truly shows you what kind of girls Coach Arendsen has on her team.
I found out that Coach K could have had the girls out here last year for the same tournament, but she thought that they might be a little too young with all the freshmen they had. At the end of it all, I looked at her and asked if they would be back next year. "Oh yeah, definitely," she said. She thanked me for coming out and supporting the ladies and headed out for Sky Harbor airport.
Unfortunately, I'm apparently not very good at getting what few alumni we have out here motivated to do anything because only a couple of us came out. But, like I said, just a few people with a lot of heart can definitely make enough noise.
Even though all that recruiting was exciting for MSU fans, all of you reading this missed one hell of a weekend here in the Valley of the Sun. I wish I could put into words how great our softball team is and how proud I was to call myself a Bulldog. I've always been and always will be a football guy, but I never knew how much fun a women's softball game could be.
[If you would like to email Chris, his email address is email@example.com. - Gene]