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Durant's Cuellar at ease in difficult times

Scott Purks Special correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 06:05 AM

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CLERMONT -

Durant High softball shortstop Olivia "OC" Cuellar stepped onto the biggest and brightest stage of her young life Sunday and Monday night — the Class 8A state softball semifinal and final — and felt, "Completely at ease."

"I don't know if I've ever been more calm," Cuellar said after Sunday's 7-2 semifinal victory over Jacksonville Mandarin. "It's truly amazing."

And why?

"My angel," she said.

Her angel is her mother, Antionette "AC" Cuellar, a Cougars team mom who never missed a game — including several she attended in a wheelchair and with an oxygen tank — before dying May 4 at the age of 48 after a long battle with cancer.

"I feel like she's with me," Cuellar said before Monday's final against Miami Palmetto. "Now I feel like everybody has somebody watching over them. I really do."

Durant coach Matt Carter said his team and the growing Durant fan base feel a similar vibe.

"It has been tough because (Antionette) was such a part of all our lives," Carter said. "The reality is definitely there, but I think everybody also has been reminded of what is really important.

"I do think this may have given everybody a sort of calmness."

That goes for Cougars' mind-boggling run through the playoffs that has included three-walk off home runs and a comeback from a fifth-inning 11-run deficit.

"(Antionette's passing) has pulled everybody together," Carter said. "We've all played for Olivia and her mom, and Olivia has definitely played for her mom.

"Yes, it has been tough, but some good has been found in it."

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