By Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) —  It’s fair to say Auburn University is an underdog in the Final Four tournament.  But the team with few expectations is part of a community that’s overcome the most devastation.

An EF-4 tornado touched down near the university in early March. The storm was the deadliest since 1932. It killed 23 people, including several children.

Auburn’s basketball coach visited an affected school and they honored that vow to the highest degree.

Each team had to fight, but one team has also had to grieve.

“The heart of the storm hit about seven miles from my doorstep,” Coach Bruce Pearl said at a Minneapolis press conference.

“We were actually in practice that day and we heard sirens that day, and of course when the devastation was unfolding.”

Pearl said the tornado was devastating, but also motivating. The Tigers dug in, vowing to play for victims on the court and help survivors off the court.

Propelling the team, they ignited the fans.

“It gives the team something to play for, I think it’s the biggest thing it did,” fan Keegan McGlynn said.

McGlynn and his siblings traveled to Minneapolis from their home in Lee County, not far from the storm.

“I think it’s one of those things when you never expect it to happen to you,” Aidan McGlynn said.

“You never expect it to happen to your friends in your city.”

Nor did the team expect to make it to the Final Four for the first time ever.  They haven’t lost a game since the tornado hit the ground.

“Like Bruce said, we’re doing it for the victims, the people that the people we saw that we knew get hurt,” Cade McGlynn said. “We’re giving them something to rally around now, which I think is pretty incredible that a sport can do that.”

Although the team could never take away the pain, they can add some joy.

Auburn takes on the University of Virginia at 5:09 p.m. Saturday.

They are not the favorite, but in this tournament that doesn’t seem to matter.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

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