Arizona Wildcats senior Nicole Bryan didn’t know where to go, where to stand, what to do.
It was Senior Day at Hillenbrand Stadium, always a big deal around the program, often teary, with seniors surrounded by family, introduced to the crowd with the public address announcer reading a deliberately sappy script about the player’s career.
It’s an Arizona tradition.
Bryan’s introductions, capped with a hug from coach Mike Candrea, had just finished near home plate Saturday after the Cats’ 3-1 walk-off victory over Oregon State.
For as thrilling as that game was, for as emotional as Senior Day is, Bryan’s memorable afternoon had just begun.
“I was standing next to Coach and he was like, ‘Wait here, wait here,’” Bryan said.
“I was like, ‘I thought were taking a picture. Where am I supposed to be standing. I don’t know what to do.”
Candrea told her to go stand at home plate. Bryan’s boyfriend of five years, Derric Cullinane, joined her there.
“I just told her, ‘We’ve been together for five years and I love you more than anything in the world,” Cullinane said. “And I got down on one knee.”
She said yes.
“It was a complete surprise,” Bryan said. “I had no clue.”
Cullinane not only had sought the approval of Bryan’s parents, but of Candrea. He called the coach last week to ask if he could propose at home plate.
“We talked on the phone and he was quite a gentleman,” Candrea said. “I said, absolutely. I thought it would be a great thing. To choose to ask your bride-to-be at home plate, it doesn’t get any better than that.
“I’ve had quite a few things that have occurred (in softball), but that was a new one. That was fun.”
Bryan and Cullinane met while freshmen at Mountain View High School. Bryan went on to play two years at Central Arizona College before transferring to Arizona. She redshirted in 2010 and has been mostly a backup outfielder the past two seasons.
“I have been planning it for a couple of years,” said the 23-year-old Cullinane, who recently took a job working on an oil rig in Woodward, Okla. “Since she started at the UA, I wanted to propose on her Senior Day. I thought that would be a good career-ended for her.”
After five years of dating, though, Bryan was beginning to wonder about that proposal.
“We were just talking about that two days ago,” said junior third baseman Brigette Del Ponte, who called Bryan her best friend. “We were like, ‘He’s never going to propose, ever.’”
That he waited for the right moment made it perfect.
“It’s extremely meaningful,” Bryan said.
“We spend so much time here that it’s such a big part of me. It’s kind of nice that it happened here. It’s going to be very special for the rest of my life.”