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COLLEGE SOFTBALL: Inola native Walker looks back on WCWS journey

Jun. 4—OKLAHOMA CITY — Lillie Walker's journey to the Women's College World Series has been defined by hard work, persistence and the unwavering support of her community.

The Inola alum and Duke senior pitcher described the thrill and nerves of competing on the grand stage, reflecting on her lifelong dream to play in the WCWS. For her, stepping onto the field at Devon Park in Oklahoma City was a surreal experience, amplified by the presence of supporters who had been with her throughout her journey.

"It's obviously a big stage, and it's what you work for your entire life," Walker said. "I think back to times whenever I was like 12 years old, seeing how big of a stage it is and then being able to actually do it was just pretty surreal. Especially when you can see all the people around that supported me and helped me to get to where I am today. It's been pretty awesome."

Walker's gratitude for the community that helped her reach this point was evident as she recounted her path to the WCWS, emphasizing the role of hard work and self-motivation in her success.

The Blue Devils wrapped up their historic season with a 52-9 record, finishing their WCWS run with losses to Oklahoma and Alabama. Walker played against her home-state Sooners, pitching two innings while giving up three hits, three runs and striking out one batter.

She did not appear in the elimination game against the Crimson Tide, which Duke lost 2-1.

The experience of playing against OU, the three-time defending national champion, was both challenging and rewarding for her.

Throughout the season, Walker embraced her role as a relief pitcher, often coming into challenging situations to stabilize the game. She acknowledged the heightened nerves associated with playing on such a significant stage but noted that she had become accustomed to managing them over the season.

Walker discussed her strategy when facing strong offenses like the Sooners', emphasizing the importance of mixing pitches and keeping hitters off balance. Despite the formidable competition, she remained confident in her abilities and focused on doing her best.

"I'm trying to nibble, trying to make them chase; I'm trying to sneak in some changeups here and there," Walker said. "I think that the biggest thing is just trusting myself, trusting my spin and working through the zone. You don't really settle in against an offense like that; you stay on your toes and keep them guessing."

This was her second meeting of the season against OU, having faced it on Feb. 8 at Nancy Almaraz Stadium in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

In Duke's 3-0 loss, she allowed three hits and one walk through 2.1 innings. However, this early encounter against one of the nation's top teams provided valuable experience and helped prepare her for the high-pressure moments in the WCWS.

"It's kind of cool to see how much we've grown and how much experience we've gained to get to the last game of the season and be in the Women's College World Series against the same team," Walker said. "Although it wasn't the outcome that we wanted, it's a crazy experience and crazy to see all the fans and everyone there."

Walker also reflected on a memorable game in the Columbia Super Regional against Missouri.

In a high-pressure situation, she gave up a three-run home run in the final inning of an elimination game. Despite this setback, the Blue Devils secured a 4-3 victory to advance to the WCWS.

Walker credited her ability to stay focused and composed under pressure to her mindset of doing her best and trusting her team.

"It was a tough situation to go in and then not do what you really want to do in that moment," Walker said. "Something that I've been kind of known for throughout the whole season is being able to close games and kind of shut opponents down. But my mentality is I can only do the best I can do. I just have to believe and be grateful for every opportunity that I get and give the best that I have. Whenever I'm out there in the circle, all I can think is, 'I'm going to beat the hitter.' That just keeps going through my mind — I can only do my best.

"I'm so thankful that my team was able to get insurance runs."

Reminiscing on her journey from Inola to the WCWS, Walker expressed deep appreciation for her community and family, who played crucial roles in her development as a player and person.

She highlighted the importance of hard work, persistence and community support in achieving her goals.

"I would not be where I am today if it weren't for the community that surrounded me at Inola and my family and all that they've sacrificed to be able to get me to where I am today," Walker said. "Just to see it all kind of come to fruition on the biggest stage is pretty cool."

As her senior season concludes, Walker looks ahead to her next chapter. She ended her career with the Blue Devils with a 20-3 record in 67 appearances with 135.2 innings pitched. The senior left-handed pitcher struck out 86 batters and maintained a cumulative ERA of 1.70 over her three seasons in the rotation.

With another year of eligibility remaining, she plans to transfer to Baylor University in Waco, Texas, to play for the Bears while pursuing a master's degree in social work. Balancing her academic ambitions with her athletic career, Walker reached out to coaches, and Baylor's need for a pitcher aligned perfectly with her goals.

"I was really just putting school first," Walker said. "... (Baylor was like), 'Yeah, we need a pitcher', so it just kind of worked out."

Walker's story is one of dedication, resilience and gratitude. Her journey from small-town Oklahoma to the biggest stage in college softball showcases the power of hard work and community support.

As she prepares for her next challenge at Baylor, she remains focused on giving her best and making the most of every opportunity.

"I'm just so thankful for the community that's been there with me throughout," Walker said. "There's been so much that's gone into it, so much hard work. It's all kind of coming to a head here, and it's really surreal."