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COLLEGE SOFTBALL: Family support fuels Walker's WCWS dream

Jun. 11—OKLAHOMA CITY — Just hours before her debut at the Women's College World Series on May 30, Inola native Lillie Walker received a poignant message from her mother.

"Please stop and take this in."

Call it a mother's intuition or just being a good parent, but Farrah Walker knew her oldest daughter needed some of her motherly wisdom. This guidance proved invaluable as Lillie Walker took the field, for she knew this might be her only opportunity to compete at this level.

With one year of eligibility left and a transfer from Duke to Baylor on the horizon, the stakes were high.

"I want you to just breathe," Farrah Walker said, recalling what she wrote in the text message. "I want you to look up, I want you to take it in and realize this is your dream. You've done this. You've done it."

During a commercial break, as Lillie Walker stood poised to pitch, a delay gave her a moment to look up and smile — just as her mom advised — prompting cheers from the crowd.

Her mother noted that this moment epitomized Lillie Walker's journey and her ability to appreciate every second of the experience.

"It's obviously something she'll never, ever forget," Farrah Walker said.

In her two innings against Oklahoma, Lillie Walker allowed three hits and three runs, striking out one batter in a 9-1 loss. She did not play in the subsequent 2-1 loss to Alabama that ended Duke's season.

For Lillie Walker's father Joe, the event was a culmination of years of hard work.

He secured over 30 tickets for family and friends, and the support from the Inola and Tulsa communities was overwhelming, with an estimated 75 to 100 people attending to cheer Lillie Walker on.

"It was really the most exciting time in my life," Joe Walker said. "We worked hard for a long, long time to get to that point. For her to be out on the field, to be part of a team and a part of the game that got them there was spectacular."

Lillie Walker's younger sister Brooke, who recently graduated from Inola High School, has witnessed her relentless efforts firsthand.

She expressed immense pride in her sister's achievements, finding the experience of seeing Lillie Walker's hard work pay off "insane" and fulfilling.

"I have been there through it all," Brooke Walker said. "From her pitching in our garage and playing. I've been to endless weekends of softball games, from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Watching her and just seeing her hard work pay off, it makes me feel proud."

Farrah Walker has always admired her daughter's confidence and resilience in the face of doubt.

Lillie Walker's determination shone through when she boldly declared her desire to pitch against top teams, including an early season game against OU in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Although Duke lost 3-0, Lillie Walker performed admirably, pitching 2.1 innings without allowing any runs.

"She's had a lot of doubters," Farrah Walker said. "It's been hard, and she has never doubted herself. That's what's propelled her, I think, to do what she's done. She's the most confident and self-assured person I have ever been around, maybe next to her dad. She has pressured through, she she wants the ball. I remember whenever we went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in February, and we knew we were playing OU, she was like, 'I want to pitch', and I was like, 'You do?' She was like, 'Why would I not?' I was like, 'I don't know, what if they ...' She goes, 'Everyone expects us to do bad, but what if I get in there and just tear it up? I want the opportunity.'"

Lillie Walker maintained an ERA of 1.98 over 63.2 innings throughout the season, notching 40 strikeouts and a team-high four saves.

Reflecting on Lillie Walker's decision to attend Duke, Farrah Walker admitted initial reservations about the distance from Inola to Durham, N.C. — over 1,100 miles.

However, the experience proved invaluable, providing Lillie Walker with a top-tier education and opportunities that might not have been possible otherwise.

"I'll be honest, whenever she came to me and decided to go to Duke, I was devastated," Farrah Walker said. "I did not want her to go that far away. It's emotional because I feel bad that I had that feeling. It's been the best experience, and I feel like I could've kept her from that. I don't think I could have because she's too much of Joe, but it was hard. It's always hard. Every time she leaves, it's hard. But every time I'm there and I see her in that environment, I see her doing what she has set in her mind that she will do. I just admire her. I know it's not been easy for her."

The support from Lillie Walker's family has been unwavering.

Farrah Walker, though emotional about Lillie Walker being far from home, admires her daughter's resilience. Brooke Walker also finds it tough with her older sister 17 hours away but stays connected through FaceTime and tracking her location to feel close.

"It never got easier seeing her leave," Farrah Walker said. "I told her when she went, I said, 'You cannot call home and tell me you're homesick. I can't handle it; call your dad, and he'll deal with it. You're gonna get homesick.' I just told her I can't because I'll be up there. I didn't want her to have to have that feeling. If she was ever (homesick) she never let that on to me — let's just say that."

A defining moment in Lillie Walker's journey was a costly but crucial trip to California with her travel-league softball team during her senior year of high school.

Despite financial constraints, the trip paid off when Duke noticed her, leading to her college softball career and subsequent educational opportunities.

"I'll be honest, we did not have the money," Farrah Walker said. "It was a seven-day trip to California, and they dictated where you stayed, so it wasn't like I could find a good deal. It was, 'You stay here,' and I was like, 'Joe, we cannot.' He said, 'Listen here — this is her final time; this is do or die. We're going.' We went, and that's where Duke saw her, so it paid off big time. She would not be here today if it was not for that trip. Now she has this fabulous education and opportunities ahead of her."

As Lillie Walker transitions to Baylor, her story remains an inspiring testament to overcoming adversity with belief and hard work.

Her mother hopes that young softball enthusiasts can draw inspiration from Lillie Walker's journey, demonstrating that with determination and confidence, they too can achieve their dreams

"I think it's important for little girls who love softball and are seeing this," Farrah Walker said. "I think that she's a testament to the fact that you can overcome some of the things that are not ideal, with a belief in yourself and a drive to do it. You have to believe in yourself. You can't doubt, and you have to put in the work and shut out the naysayers.

"Set your mind to it and do it, and that's exactly what she's done."