CLAREMORE — With every pitch and every swing of the bat, the "Spirit of Tyler Brown" continues to carry the Rogers State University baseball team in the NAIA Division I World Series.
The Hillcats — or shall we say the "Cardiac Cats" — take a piece of their former teammate with them every time they step inside the dugout, the batter's box or the diamond.
His initials "T.B. #23" are inscribed on the back of their caps, and even one player — pitcher Kyle Duncan — has Tyler Brown's signature tattooed on his body.
It's the love for their fallen teammate and former Berryhill All-State baseball player that has these Hillcats not wanting to give up in Lewiston, Idaho.
For the past five World Series games, the Hillcats have found their backs against the wall, only to achieve four victories using a clutch hit, an 18-strikeout performance or a pair of solid defensive plays in center field.
On Wednesday, though, all it took in the bottom of the seventh inning, was a constant touch of Tyler Brown's No. 23 jersey hanging in the Hillcats dugout to know their teammate was behind them late in the game.
Trailing 5-3, the "Cardiac Cats" rallied behind Brown's spirit and tied the game on Eric Baker's 2-RBI double to the gap in left-center field. It was Baker's second-straight two-run double and his third hit of the game that electrified the 'Cats rally in the seventh inning.
Moments later, Colton Campbell gave the 'Cats the lead for good at 6-5 on an RBI-double to left field that plated Baker. One batter later, Lance Rymel's one-out RBI-single plated the much-needed insurance run and RSU was rockin' and rollin' with a 7-5 lead and six outs away from their first-ever berth in the NAIA Division I National Championship.
For these 'Cats, every ounce of sweat in practice has been in honor of Tyler Brown. He's the reason the "Cardiac Cats" are thrivin' and survivin' and chasing their small-town dreams in Lewiston, Idaho.
Knowing Brown's not with them physically in the dugout hasn't changed their outlook on how to play each out of every inning.
Brown's spirit as well as the "Cardiac Cats" courage to persevere through the toughest times this season has made this team a stronger unit and a force to reckon with.
Who would've thought that back in November 2011 ... a car wreck would have taken the life of a young man who was born to wear that No. 23 Hillcat uniform.
Tyler Brown stood on the mound and dominated as a freshman starting pitcher in 2011 for the Hillcats. He collected a perfect 6-0 record and played a vital role in leading the Hillcats to a first-ever Sooner Athletic Conference Tournament championship and a berth in the NAIA Division I Opening Round Regional Tournament.
Brown was expected to build upon his perfect season with a spectacular sophomore year and enjoy this journey to the NAIA World Series with his teammates.
Unfortunately, unexpected things happen at unexpected times that often test our Faith and make us wonder 'Why T.B." ... Why did our brother have to leave us?
Well, Hillcats ... it's time to win the biggest game in RSU history for "T.B. No. 23"
And, if it takes another "Seventh Inning rally" to do it ... just remember, you're not alone in the fight.
The "Spirit of Tyler Brown" is leading the way.
* Tim Ritter is the Claremore Daily Progress Sports Editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.