This month a year ago, pitcher Lacey Middlebrooks and the rest of the University of Tulsa softball team were in Birmingham for a three-game series against UAB. Meanwhile, her older brother Will Middlebrooks had just been called up to the Boston Red Sox. He was playing in just his third Major League game at the same time as TU's third and final game of the series.
One could say the stars aligned for the Middlebrooks on the diamond. On May 6, 2012, both players hit game-winning home runs. Will's was a grand slam at Camden Yards, his first Major League home run. Lacey's HR was a 3-run shot, the only runs of the game. She also pitched a 3-hit shutout that afternoon.
"We found out pretty quickly that [the home runs] were in the same minute," recalls Tulsa head coach John Bargfeldt. "Her's was a (conference regular season title) clinching home run for us."
With the win, TU secured the top seed for the league's tournament which they later won. Will played in 75 games with the Red Sox in 2012, finishing with a .288 batting average along with 15 home runs.
For Lacey, the second half of 2012 wasn't as pleasant.
"I tore my meniscus, my lateral meniscus," Lacey explained. "After the surgery [this past] fall, it just didn't go well. I have a lot of deterioration. I'll have to have a knee replacement. There's a lot of wear and tear in it."
It's affected how often Bargfeldt utilized Middlebrooks over the course of this season.
"Sometimes that knee puffs up on her so that's probably the reason we haven't used her as much down the stretch," Bargfeldt admits. "But she's a middle-of-the-lineup hitter for us and a presence in the circle. She's just a gamer."
Lacey's older sibling Will has faced some recent adversity as well since starting his first full season as a big league third baseman with the Red Sox. She claims Will has quickly grown to love the city of Boston, so much so that it has become his new "hometown." (They're originally from Greenville, Texas.)
When the bombing occurred at the Boston Marathon last month, Lacey says Will was deeply affected. The team was in the clubhouse getting ready to head to the airport for a 3-game series in Cleveland.
"They were a half-mile away from the marathon explosion," said Lacey. "We didn't talk that day. But when they flew back in while the M.I.T. was going on. So it was a tough couple days for him."
While daily life is returning to the norm for the Middlebrooks ball players, the next big challenge for Will could be trying to watch his sister play in her final NCAA Regional series this weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska. Lacey is used to it.
"He's missed a lot of games over the years," she chuckled. " But it's his season, his job really. He catches games on TV when he can. If not, my parents tell him. He's going to try to [see the regional series on ESPN3.com.] I know my parents will be there. So if when he's not there, they keep him updated."
Tulsa opens the four-team, double-elimination NCAA regional series against Stanford this Friday in Lincoln. First pitch is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. central time.
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