“In the end, it’s just a game.” Sophisticated thinking with a cavernous depth of perspective indeed from Ohio State junior shortstop Lilli Piper, but that’s what happens when a spring softball excursion to the West Coast results in saving a loved one’s life at an amusement park followed by the death of the family patriarch the following morning.
With nearly two months of the season under her stirrups, the transfer from Akron has followed up on a 2017 campaign that saw her nab unanimous First Team All-Big Ten honors with statistics that not only lead the Buckeyes but also place her near the top of all D1 hitters. Piper’s 13 home runs, 39 hits, 34 RBI, and 31 runs scored are impressive on their own, but her life-saving instincts away from the diamond and a blistering 11-for-11 hitting streak during her grandfather’s passing is especially remarkable.
“He had gone into, essentially, cardiac arrest.” On Thursday, March 15, an off day in Southern California between the Louisville Slugger Invitational and the Easton Invitational slated to begin the following day. The shortstop, her mother, and her mother’s boyfriend decided to spend the sunshiny afternoon at a 160-acre amusement park just west of Anaheim.
“We went to Knott’s Berry Farm, and we were playing a basketball game,” said the former two-sport athlete with the Zips, who decided to leave the hardwood behind and focus solely on softball upon her 2016 arrival in Columbus. “He [her mother’s boyfriend] said he didn’t feel very well, so he went to go sit down because he thought he was just getting overheated because it was warm. When we turned back around, he had fallen. When we got over there, he had stopped breathing.”
Piper’s mother’s boyfriend had gone into cardiac arrest, and the quick-thinking native from Norton, Ohio, began to administer CPR. A bystander in the park, who just happened to be a physician’s assistant, also came over to help.
“Initially, it was very scary because there’s not a very high chance when people go into cardiac arrest that they survive – especially in the field. We’re just very happy and lucky that he’s doing well right now. That’s essentially what happened on my ‘calm’ off day I was supposed to have.”
“The very next morning, he had passed.” After the traumatic events the previous afternoon, Piper awoke to prepare for a double-header against Grand Canyon and Cal State Fullerton.
That’s when her world changed forever as she received news of her grandfather’s passing.
“My grandpa had followed me since I was like 12 playing travel ball no matter where it was. He was all over the country, him and my grandma, just some of my biggest supporters.”
Piper’s grandfather, who she said was one of the best shortstops in Ohio during his time on the diamond, wanted his granddaughter to make the West Coast trip that would place her some 2,300 miles away despite his health concerns.
“In the end, I knew that he wanted me to be out there with how much he valued sports. Yeah, it was definitely a struggle to keep focused, but my teammates were a huge, huge help and supporters throughout it all. I honestly wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.”
The junior did more than just take the field after learning of her grandfather’s passing. She proceeded to go 6-for-6 at the plate that day, including a 4-for-4 performance with three RBI and two runs scored against Grand Canyon, followed by a 2-for-2 showing later that afternoon against Cal State Fullerton that included another two runs scored.
Piper would enjoy an incredible 11-for-11 performance at the plate over four tournament games when all was said and done.
“I knew that my grandfather would want me to be there.” Despite his serious health issues, Piper knew the best way to make her grandfather proud was to lace them up and take the field.
“Up until the very last hours that he was alive, he was asking how we were doing, watching us play … always just a big supporter until the very end. I knew he’d want me to be here playing.”
In speaking to her phenomenal West Coast streak at the plate, Piper said, “I’ve had a lot of success in the past, especially up to bat and … I just knew someone was watching over me. The biggest thing for me is that no matter what happened at an at-bat or in future at-bats, that he’s always going to be proud of what I did, and that’s something that’s important to me. He definitely was looking down on me.”
“It’s just a small part of life in a nutshell.” The Buckeyes recently started Big Ten play after a blistering 19-4 non-conference start. While Piper focuses on the remainder of this year’s schedule, in a perfect world, she would enjoy the opportunity to represent her country in the Summer Olympics now that softball has been reinstated for 2020.
“I tried out for the national team this past winter over Christmas break and made it to the selection camp with top-notch players throughout the entire country.”
The national team tryouts gave her the confidence to know she can hang with the game’s elite, but she also knows that athletics comprises a small fraction of life’s ultimate journey.
No matter what path she travels down, Piper can rest assured that her adoring grandfather will be looking down upon her proudly with a smile that stretches as far and wide as a summer Ohio sky.