OKLAHOMA CITY -- Whenever the Tennessee softball team hits a home run, which the Lady Vols frequently do, a rather wild celebration ensues in the dugout.
Thursday was no exception during UT's 10-5 victory over SEC foe Alabama in the opening game of the 2023 Women's College World Series at Oge Energy Field in the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex.
The Lady Vols triggered the ritual twice -- and both times the long blasts did not come from the bats they've come to most expect producing them. After all, Kiki Milloy entered the game with a NCAA-leading 25 homers, McKenna Gibson had 15, Zaidi Puni 13 and Mackenzie Donihoo seven. Those four hitters had combined for 60 of the team's 76 round-trippers entering the afternoon.
This time, the long balls came from Jamison Brockenbaugh, who hit only her second of the season and her first since March 19 vs. LSU; and Rylie West, who hit her fifth of the year and the second of her current NCAA Tournament, having also connected vs. Indiana in a Knoxville Regional game.
So pardon Brockenbaugh and West if they soaked up every second of their big moments on softball's biggest stage -- including when they returned to the Tennessee dugout after circling the bases and were handed a "Mommy hat" and then strutted through a gauntlet of teammates in the dugout as they threw paper money at them.
"I think the dugout tradition started with COVID (in 2020) because we weren't allowed to go out," said West, whose three-run homer in the fourth inning gave Tennessee a commanding 10-2 lead. "The value was just getting to celebrate with your team in the dugout, still have a celebration."
Then she added with a laugh: "The money is not real. I wish it was. But it has all our faces on it, so it's pretty cool. And it gives you power because you get to see everyone's faces flying when someone hits a home run."
Milloy explained the evolution of the tradition a little further.
"The Mommy hat, that came from -- I don't know if you know the story, but (the Tennessee) baseball (team) kind of got their little Daddy hat band going for a second (after their home runs). So we were like, 'Let's wear the Daddy hat.' " Milloy said. "Then someone made us a Mommy hat.
"It's just like, whenever you pimp a home run, you get to have the big pimping stick and walk through the dugout. It's just great seeing all of your teammates celebrating you. When someone who doesn't maybe hit as many home runs or hits a home run during a big moment, being able to celebrate with your teammates and throw the cash on them, it's awesome."
Brockenbaugh, a freshman, credited her first homer in 73 days to a relentless work ethic.
"I've been working on that low-and-in pitch, so all that hard work, it finally paid off," said Brockenbaugh, whose third-inning homer came with two outs and gave UT a 6-2 lead at the time.
"Our mind set is just to attack," West added. "It doesn't matter who's pitching or what team we're facing. We're just going to attack. So our conversation is about going out and attacking, and playing free and playing loose. That's all we're doing."
Well, that and celebrating wildly and uniquely in the dugout after the attacks at the plate result in those home runs.
Tennessee coach Karen Weekly admits there was a time when she might have frowned on such a thing. But those times passed long ago, she was quick to add..
"I love it. I love it. The game has changed and evolved. The players have changed and evolved. The more fun they can have, the better," Weekly said.
"I've changed in that respect. I used to not even like cheering. Then I realized (her players) don't stay in the game if they're not cheering. So whatever kind of keeps them engaged and connected, and you heard them talk about it's just so fun to be able to celebrate with your team. My thing on celebrations, and I've told them this, we're never going to allow anything that is directed at our opponent, but we'll celebrate us all day long."