OKLAHOMA CITY -- Two seasons ago, Oregon was in Oklahoma City for the Women's College World Series. Although "Seth the Snake" did not contribute much on the field of play, the rubber snake found in a random box by Kailee Cuico, made the trip.
In 2013, there was no Seth and no trip to Oklahoma City.
Seth returned, was brought back from the dead, and returned to the Ducks' dugout this spring. Is it a coincidence that Oregon is back in OKC?
With a large green and yellow contingent, some sporting "Seth the Snake" shirts, the Ducks took care of Oklahoma 4-2 to move within two wins of playing for a national championship. Janie Takeda gave Oregon the lead with a one-out double in the third; Cuico's hard-hit grounder in between third and shortstop scored two more as the Ducks slithered out to a 3-0 advantage. Sophomore left-hander Cheridon Hawkins and Karissa Hovinga held off the Sooner offensive attack in front of the third largest WCWS session crowd in tournament history (9,323). Hovinga entered in the seventh and picked up a huge strikeout of Oklahoma's Lauren Chamberlain with a runner aboard; Hawkins returned to the circle and recorded the final out of long and wild day of softball.
A day that started with some leisure ended with a high-stress environment.
"Last year [Seth] was just hanging out in my room and I don't know why," Cuico said after Saturday's late-night win. "I never did bring him out, but this year I really wanted to make it a team thing. At first, it was kind of a little joke, but he got fans and a girlfriend snake and everything. It just kind took off and it's been fun.
"It really is a way to keep the mood light, especially during all these big games."
Oregon head coach Mike White has no problem giving Seth a spot in the dugout.
"We have no problem with our players expressing themselves and even our pet snake has his own Twitter page, so it's all good for me," said White on Wednesday. "But in all seriousness, it's the way they stay relaxed, it's the way they feel good to play and if it helps us win I'm all for it."
Softball teams have a number of rituals, quirky habits that show up for a random reason, then become part of a team's identity. Call it superstition. Call it goofy. For those involved, especially this time of year, it is about whatever works.
"I've seen props in dugouts, and I've seen wigs and costumes and things that are going a little overboard, but that's the style of that team," Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso said. "That works for them, maybe it doesn't work for another team; but it doesn't take away the passion for the game, so I think everyone here is different."
Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson compared the extra attention paid to bows worn in the hair of many players to playoff beards in professional baseball and hockey.
"I'm not really a bow girl, as you can tell, but nobody can tell me … think about guys and their nasty beards in baseball," Lawson said before the tournament. "They're going into the postseason; you know they check out their beard and make sure it's long as the girls do with their bows. So, nobody can tell me there is a difference between a big, nasty beard and a bow. I think they're accessories and it's what they're comfortable with and I don't think much about it."
Again, whatever works.
The green and gold of Oregon has possibly taken it to a new level.
Brian Duke, part of a trio of Duck fans known as "The Pit Crew," caught a flight to Denver on Thursday, then took a 15-hour bus ride to Oklahoma City. Along with A.J. Locati and Grant Silverstein, Duke was responsible for bringing a cardboard cutout of another snake, Beth, to games last weekend. The group chanted, "Beth loves Seth, Beth loves Seth" during the Ducks' successful weekend and a possible romance, or tradition, was born in Eugene.
"I didn't know I was coming," Duke said. "Maybe if we found a place to stay, maybe if we can find some money, maybe this … it just wasn't working out."
Coach White's wife, Lisa, made a few things happen, raised some money, and Duke was headed to Oklahoma to join the Oregon cheering section.
"[Duke] made up the cardboard cutout last week during Super Regionals and there was some chatter back and forth on Twitter," Silverstein said. "I think what it shows is the relationship between the fans with this team and softball fans and players in general. The reason we are here is because the players asked us to come; it's really great to be here supporting them. Everybody has a good time with it; the Seth thing has kind of taken off."
As you might expect, Oregon, and Seth, took a trip to the Oklahoma City Zoo this week to make it possible for @SethTheSnakeUO to meet a real version of himself. He posed for pictures on the back of a tortoise and in the snake aquarium. There was also a trip to the state capital and to Chesapeake Energy Arena, just hours before the NBA's Western Conference finals tipped off on Saturday night.
"We actually did not bring Beth [on Saturday night]," one of the Pit Crew joked. "There might be some jealousy involved or something."
Even in the high-pressure atmosphere of championship tournaments, there is still plenty of room for some fun.
"I love our sport because we don't have to be stoic and follow the traditional rules of baseball," said Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Micheal Lotief, the patriarch of a rambunctious group of Ragin' Cajun followers. "You can have your own personalities. We can have our celebrations at home plate after home runs. You can show emotion. You can do a dog pile.
"You can cheer in the dugout, you can have all that fun. I think that's why our fan base loves our sport, because we don't try to suppress all that."
The celebration flowed from field to stands Saturday night when Baylor completed one of the most dramatic comebacks in WCWS history. Down 7-0 in the sixth inning, the Bears came all the way back to win 8-7 in eight innings.
"All that stuff, the bows, the crazy things they do … hey, if it makes them believe they can come back from a bunch of runs, I'm all for it," said an exhausted Baylor fan following the Bears' thrilling win.