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More than just a single strikeout

Brittany Hook’s first appearance since her mother passed away was a one-out, three-pitch save. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/USF ATHLETICS

It was only one at-bat in a nonconference game against a team from the Southland Conference.

It was only three pitches.

It was also so much more than that.

After struggling to find any offense through the first five innings against Texas A&M Corpus Christi on Friday afternoon, USF put up five runs in the bottom of the sixth, spearheaded by a three-run homer by sophomore Megan Pierro, the first of her career.

The Bulls took a 5-4 lead into the top of the seventh when all was said and done. Freshman Vivian Ponn, who entered in the second in relief of sophomore Camryn Dolby, had thrown 4.2 innings of scoreless, one-hit softball. It was her game to finish, especially after she came out to start the inning.

Ponn gave up a leadoff base hit, then retired the next two batters, although the aforementioned tying run moved into scoring position on the second out, a grounder to third.

Then, something extremely puzzling happened — at least that’s how it looks in the box score. Ponn was pulled in favor of sophomore Brittany Hook.

Hook’s appearance was, at the very least, unexpected for several reasons — other than the oddity of pulling Ponn with one out to go. 

Hook only made seven appearances her freshman season, allowing 12 runs in 9.2 innings, mostly in games that either were or ended up blowouts.

But the biggest questions about the pitcher entering the circle had nothing to do with Brittany Hook the softball player and everything to do with Brittany Hook the person. Hook was making her first appearance since her mother, Melissa, passed away right before the season began.

How was this going to end?

Everyone at the USF Softball Stadium appeared to know the significance of the pitching change. She received a loud ovation as USF players and fans cheered her on, saying things like, “C’mon Britt,” before she had even thrown her first pitch.

Sydney Hoyt stepped into the batter’s box to greet Hook. Hoyt was 0-for-2, but stats really didn’t seem to matter for anybody at that moment.

Strike 1 looking

Great start. Hoyt looked like she didn’t know what to expect.

The “C’mon Britt” and other cheers continued, louder this time.

But not as loud as…

Strike 2 looking

Hook had thrown two pitches all season but looked as if she hadn’t missed a minute.

The cheers and words of encouragement were louder than ever, but they reached their peak when…

Strike 3 looking

At this point, any emotion Hook might have been trying to bottle up flowed freely — she jumped up, embracing catcher Taryn Freshwater, which eventually turned into a mob of USF players surrounding Hook between the first base dugout and the pitcher’s circle.

It was clear who Hook was pitching for that night.

“It was really important,” Hook said. “I know my mom would have wanted me to come out here and just be me.”

Even after said mob dispersed and the Bulls were lining up along the first base line for the playing of the alma mater, Hook was still receiving individual embraces from teammates. The celebration was pretty much a microcosm of how things have been the last few weeks.

“They’ve been amazing, all of them,” Hook said. “As soon as it happened, all of them were there for me. Nobody left the locker room and nothing’s changed. They make sure I’m OK every day and that’s something I really appreciate.

“Having that support makes it so much easier to be able to come out every day and just play.”

Three pitches — three incredible pitches — changed the narrative of a game which already was set up for a dramatic ending.

“Oh my God, all I could think about was Brittany Hook,” said Pierro, who would have been the hero otherwise. “That’s incredible. We’re all her No. 1 fan right now. Just strike by strike is all we were thinking.”

After the game, Hook received an outpouring of love online, both from teammates and from friends in her home state of Pennsylvania.

“Gave me chills! So proud of you,” Bulls senior Brooke Hartman tweeted.

“Always in our hearts here in PA,” Twitter user Cathy Riggs wrote.

On paper, it was only a one-out save during a nonconference game. 

Emotionally, though, it carried the weight of a victory in Oklahoma City in June. Hook’s performance Sunday — one run on two hits in 2.1 innings in USF’s 7-5 loss to Syracuse — was also up there, as it continued the process of getting back to what she knew she had to do.

“Every time I throw, I think about her,” Hook said, “so personally, it was really important for me just to go out there and just play, just because that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life.” 

Additional reporting by Nolan Brown.