The screams began.
One camera flashed, then another and another.
Little girls dangled their arms over a concrete divider at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium with softballs, T-shirts and Sharpies in hand.
“Keilani, can you sign this? Keilani, can I get your autograph? Keilani, I love you!”
Oklahoma superstar Keilani Ricketts' eyes were shaded by a ball cap proclaiming her a national champion.
She raised her head and squinted slightly as the flashes continued.
More than an hour had passed since Oklahoma softball celebrated the program's second national title, beating Tennessee 4-0 in Game 2 of the Women's College World Series.
What's it like to be your sports' biggest superstar? On Tuesday night, the weight of at least a year of being called “the best” was lifted off Ricketts' shoulders. But walking in her cleats proved that if anyone can carry the load it's Keilani Ricketts.
As the little girls continued to shout, an NCAA representative was pushing Ricketts and her teammates up the stairs after they completed their press conference. He needed to get the team out to speak with ESPN.
“Can I sign some?” Ricketts asked the representative, slightly pausing on the stairs.
“No,” he said.
Ricketts looked like she would take a second to argue, then looked at the young fans and smiled.
“Meet me back at the field.”
Ricketts grew up in a family of softball players. Both her older sisters saw success at the collegiate level, but Sam Ricketts, a former OU player, said the family knew there was something special in Keilani.
“We just didn't know it was this big of special,” Sam Ricketts said.
Little girls practice Keilani's signature twist. Little boys look at her in athletic awe. Someone even created a Twitter account of her pitching glove.
“But for real tho @laniricketts10 is my partner in crime ... We'll take on anybody that steps in the batters box. #bescared” -@OKelaini10
“Before @laniricketts10 is about to pitch the ball I give it a kiss for Goodluck ... #ritual #every time” -@OKelaini10
From her untouchable pitching to her destructive hitting, Keilani Ricketts is like a softball version of Babe Ruth.
Even on a night when she didn't pitch and the ball was put in the hands of Michelle Gascoigne, the conversation still revolved around Ricketts, the two-time National Player of the Year.
“She is one of the greatest of all time in this sport,” Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said. “This kid has been living with that for a while, and it's been wearing on her.”
Then Gasso looked down the row of her players, past the No. 1 hitter who mashed 30 home runs this season, past the No. 2 pitcher who garnered a 0.92 ERA and at her star, her pride and joy. “I think you can now say you are.”
Some Tennessee fans were offended by the site of Ricketts in the dugout instead of in the pitcher's circle.
How dare Oklahoma pitch this No. 2. Give us your best. Give us Keilani Ricketts
Oklahoma's best beat the Vols with her bat, sending all four RBIs across the plate. After the trophy ceremony, Ricketts' family and boyfriend were allowed on the field while people such as third baseman Shelby Pendley's aunt and uncle were trying to talk their way on. As her teammates ran from one person to the next taking photos, a small cluster of teammates gathered to ask Ricketts for a photo.
The smile she had all week at the WCWS never once faded.
Exactly two hours after the final pitch crossed home plate and Oklahoma dogpiled to celebrate winning the national title, the Sooners' superstar stood on the field.
Little girls arms dangled over the first base-line wall with softballs and T-shirts. A Sharpie was in an Oklahoma player's left hand.
Keilani Ricketts had kept her word.