NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment

OU softball: Bigger than Virginia? UMBC comes to Norman with history against No. 1 seeds

Advertisement
UMBC is making its first appearance in the NCAA softball tournament since 2002 after upsetting Stony Brook in the America East championship game. [UMBC ATHLETICS PHOTO]
UMBC is making its first appearance in the NCAA softball tournament since 2002 after upsetting Stony Brook in the America East championship game. [UMBC ATHLETICS PHOTO]

NORMAN — A few stood and screamed. Some hugged. Others raised their hands in disbelief.

As Chris Kuhlmeyer watched his University of Maryland, Baltimore County softball team celebrate Sunday night during the NCAA Tournament selection show, he waited for the historical connection to click.

UMBC, thanks to an improbable run in the America East conference tournament, will face No. 1 seed Oklahoma when regional play begins Friday night in Norman.

“Coach, we’re going up against a No. 1 seed,” one player said. To which Kuhlmeyer responded: “Hey, you know what? It’s what we do here.”

That’s as much the school motto as any Latin phrase engraved on campus.

UMBC went from an unknown acronym to the most endearing Cinderella in sports when its men’s basketball team toppled No. 1 seed Virginia as a No. 16 seed in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

The Retrievers went viral that March night. The 20-point romp was live tweeted by Zach Seidel, whose master-class sass helped the UMBC Athletics account go from 5,400 followers to a number now north of 85,000.

Seidel was the one filming UMBC softball’s celebration Sunday night. In addition to directing digital and social media for the athletic department, he serves as sports information director for the softball team.

The Pikesville, Maryland, native did both his undergraduate and Master’s work at UMBC, a school not established until 1966. It’s where his parents met. Black and Gold were colors he couldn’t escape.

“In a weird way, this one means more to me than the basketball game over Virginia,” Seidel said.

Seidel will be in Norman this weekend. He’s been the subject of a New York Times profile, and still gets job offers from companies hoping to capitalize from his Twitter prowess. The UMBC Athletics account is more conversational than professional. It mocks doubters and very much carries the personality of the man who runs it.

Seidel jumped out of his seat when UMBC upset Virginia. It was mayhem. It was a national celebration. Yet few were following the America East softball tournament last weekend when UMBC freshman Courtney Coppersmith threw two no-hitters as the Retrievers strung together four consecutive wins to upset Stony Brook in the championship game.

“That was the first time I got emotional on the field,” Seidel said. “I had to wipe away a tear or two, and all of our administrators did. They knew how much the program had been through, and how much those girls had been through. It was such a great payoff.”

UMBC hasn’t appeared in the NCAA Tournament since 2002. Last year, as an April Fools’ joke, the student newspaper published a story about the softball program being eliminated because it was so bad.

“That hurt a lot of the girls,” Seidel said.

UMBC fired its coach after a 12-31 season. Kuhlmeyer was hired in August.

The Anacoco, Louisiana, native was a former Belmont head coach with assistant stops at LSU, Baylor, Wichita State and Miami (Ohio).

“Before seeing them pick up a bat or throwing a ball,” Kuhlmeyer said, “I told them, 'Look, I know your history isn't great. But looking at what you did last year, I think if we set a vision now, we're gonna hoist that trophy at the end. I think you can do it.’”

What he considers the goofiest bunch of people he’s ever been around followed through. Despite going 7-11 in regular-season conference play, the Retrievers lifted the tournament trophy.

During the run, Seidel sat in the same seat in the press box. The players required him to wear the same outfit. Superstitions extended to social media. Seidel only tweeted from the softball account on his phone. His laptop sat in front of him, but the team seemed to play better when the tweets came from the more inconvenient device.

UMBC can’t help but to believe in such things. It’s a school that’s already witnessed one miracle. And what if magic can be replicated?

“Maybe we won't beat Oklahoma, but we're not afraid to go up against those teams,” Kuhlmeyer said. “The path has been laid before us.”

Seidel said the UMBC men’s basketball team genuinely saw a path to victory that night in Charlotte. The Retrievers thought they could take advantage of Virginia’s slow pace, and UMBC felt slighted as a No. 16 seed.

But pace in softball can’t be controlled. Oklahoma is in the middle of a historic 39-game winning streak, and UMBC will enter a sold-out Marita Hynes Field.

Big 12 Player of the Year Sydney Romero leads OU with 17 home runs. UMBC, as a team, hit 21 home runs. During the mid-April weekend when OU swept Texas, UMBC was swept by UMass Lowell.

“Honestly, if they were to pull it off,” Seidel said, “it would probably be bigger than Virginia.”

Seidel will have surely drafted a tweet in case history repeats. There’s no doubt how the country would react.

“Oh, look,” Seidel said. “There goes UMBC again.”

***

NCAA SOFTBALL REGIONAL

Oklahoma vs. UMBC

When: 8:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Marita Hynes Field, Norman

TV: ESPN (Cox 29)

Joe Mussatto

Joe Mussatto joined The Oklahoman in August 2018 to cover OU football, men’s basketball and softball. He previously covered University of Kentucky football and basketball for SEC Country. Mussatto is from Oklahoma City and lives in Norman. Read more ›

Comments