NORMAN — Dressed in a purple and black uniform, a 9-year-old with short brown hair and a big smile stood on a mound in North Oklahoma City last weekend.
Sydney Angle and her team usually hit against a pitching machine in games, but her coach decided to let the Bring It 04 team play against girls that were two years older in a kids pitch tournament.
The tournament marked Sydney's first chance to do what she loved: pitch.
She turned to face the batter, threw her hands in the air and released the softball.
If only that umpire wasn't messing with her work.
She looked at him as he called another pitch a ball.
She thought it was a strike.
On Monday, people rushed toward Plaza Towers Elementary School to pull children from the rubble. Seven children would later be pronounced dead after an EF-5 tornado ripped through Moore and the school.
Sydney Angle was one of those seven who died. Her older sister, Casey, escaped, but only because she climbed through the window in a bathroom after bricks and such blocked any exit.
Sydney Angle was the younger sister who loved ribs, listened to One Direction's “What Makes You Beautiful” before games and, as her father Dan put it, had a really big personality.
“She was always smiling,” Dan said. “That was my biggest problem with her when I tried to tell her she did something wrong and she couldn't do it again. She'd kind of crack a smile and …”
The father's words trailed off as he looked down at the frame he was holding with a picture of his “Sydney Bear.” He was standing near home plate at Marita Hynes Field with his wife Nicole, daughter Casey and Sydney's Oklahoma Bring It teammates.
The Oklahoma Sooners invited the team to their Super Regional softball game against Texas A&M. Although the game postponed due to wet outfield conditions, that didn't stop the Sooners and Bring It from spending almost an hour together.
“It would have meant a lot to her,” Dan Angle said, looking across the red dirt infield at the smiling 8- and 9-year olds waiting for autographs from the nation's No. 1-ranked softball team.
Sydney Angle just decided to return to the game of softball. She played at ages 4 to 6, but then asked her parents if she could take a break. Her Bring It 04 coach, Landon McNeill, kept asking her to come back. Sydney rejoined the team this year, winning MVP at a Moore Girls' Softball Association Tournament two weeks ago. A photo was taken of Angle holding a trophy and wearing her MVP necklace after the game.
It's the photo Dan Angle held in the frame, the one he asked the Sooners to sign, the one Nicole Angle said will be at her 9-year-old daughter's funeral.
In her final softball game, Sydney Angle threw many strikes that the umpire ended up calling. She struck out two of the first three batters she faced.
She struck out five total. Sydney thought she could have done even better.
When Oklahoma pitcher Keilani Ricketts — perhaps the best softball pitcher in the nation — heard about Sydney Angle's stats, she smiled at Angle's father.
“Wow! She did really good,” Ricketts said.
Through smiles and tears, the Angles spoke of their beloved daughter.
Through tears and a few pauses, Nicole talked about other mothers who had lost their children in Plaza Towers. Sydney was in the same class as Emily Conatzer and Nicolas McCabe. They were good friends.
“We're going to keep their plots together,” Nicole said.
The Angles are still trying to find a photo they know they had of Sydney and Keilani. They're searching through the pile of what is left of their lives and their destroyed home.
“It's been a miserable week,” Dan said. “This was a chance to see kids laugh and smile again instead of cry.”
Then he looked one more time across the red dirt infield. Just minutes earlier, Sydney Angle's Bring It team was laughing and smiling as it raced Oklahoma softball players around the bases.
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