March 25th was the worst day of the season.
That was the day, a week after a brawl erupted late in a tournament game in Florida, that a number of T-Wolves were forced to sit out a game under suspension and watch the junior varsity fall, 20-11, in an important district game at Lawton.
Then again, that was also the day that senior Daniel Herron said brought his team closer together than ever before, and it was that day that they turned a corner to spur a run to the Class 6A state tournament, which kicks off today when North meets Bishop Kelley at 11 a.m. in Shawnee.
“It was rough,” Herron said of the week following the brawl, in which North’s players were accused of directing racial slurs toward Arlington County Day opponents, something the Timberwolves have vehemently denied. “It could have broken us. But it brought us closer together and now we’re playing for each other more than ourselves. As coach told us, it’s one of those things that can cause you to break or cause you to break records.”
The Timberwolves have been closer to the latter. A few weeks later, in a do-or-die district game, North (25-8) pulled out a 4-3 win over Westmoore to win the district title a year after collapsing in the same spot. It was another signature moment for a team that has used adversity to post a number of them.
“Even though we have a lot of the same guys, this is a completely different team mentally from last year,” coach Brian Aylor said. “They have a lot of defining moments, and it all goes back to when we were beating Arlington County Day.”
Before that game ended in the brawl incited when an Arlington County Day player sucker-punched a North baserunner, the Timberwolves were in complete control, leading a team filled with Division 1 college talent.
But despite the disappointing way that game ended, it proved to the T-Wolves one thing: The knowledge that they could play with — and defeat — anyone. It’s a sentiment that has the Timberwolves entering today’s game not shying away from anyone.
“There are no teams in this tournament as good as that team,” Aylor said. “Our guys have faced a tremendous amount of adversity, but they’re tough and battle-tested. They believe they can win it all, and that’s half the battle.”
This year’s squad is the fourth Norman North team to advance to the state tournament, and would be the first to win it. But to do that, the Timberwolves must first go through Bishop Kelley, which enters the tournament as something of a surprise after putting together a 12-17 record to this point.
Due to the single-elimination format of the tournament, neither team will be holding anything back. The Timberwolves are expected to start either Brad Kinsey or Austin Cranford and expect to get Bishop Kelley’s top hurler as well.
But, while the coaches strategize over pitching decisions and lineup moves, the T-Wolves are just ready to get on the field.
“I’m just ready to play,” Herron said. “We know we can play a couple good days of baseball, and that’s all it takes.”
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