It’s time for the prep fastpitch softball season to turn to on-field action after plenty of off-the-field activity in recent weeks.
And while the blistering heat will bear down on teams when the season starts on Tuesday, Keith Coleman, Muskogee High School’s softball coach, isn’t sweating bullets about the new rules adopted by the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association in June that caused teams to make late adjustments to schedules.
The rules, which apply to fastpitch and slowpitch softball and fall and spring baseball, include no games on Wednesday, no starts before 4 p.m. for weeklong tournaments, no starts before 10 a.m. on weekend tournaments. Also, student-athletes cannot miss more than five days of teaching time in any particular sport.
“The only thing I would’ve liked is more of a heads-up they were going to changes the rules,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s not going to be that big of a deal for us. It won’t be an issue next year.”
Coleman may not be inconvenienced, but Sequoyah coach Jeff Turtle was. Sequoyah’s tournament has been on Wednesday and Thursday, but he had to change it to Thursday and Friday.
“We also scheduled games on Wednesday for teams that are by us, so we can get there quickly,” he said. “Now, all of sudden, we can’t do that. Everybody had their dates filled, just like we did. We’ve had to reschedule with the other teams.”
Turtle said the a discussion of the new rules, passed after most schools had dismissed for the summer, occurred between the coaches and the OSSAA at the All-State clinic in late July.
“There were about 300 coaches in that meeting and we asked why these changes were made,” he said. “All we were told was that it’s already been done and (the OSSAA) will look into it.”
On the field, there doesn’t seem to be much change with the top area teams from 2011, leading off with two state finalists, expected to be strong again.
Tahlequah’s Lady Tigers look to improve on last year’s finish at 35-8 with their top two pitchers, Britney Johnson (22-8, 1.30 ERA and 186 strikeouts) and Morgan Tarrance (11-0, 1.10 ERA) back for their senior and junior years, respectively. Tahlequah lost 17-7 to Midwest City Carl Albert n last year’s Class 5A finals.
“We’re also going to have a freshman pitcher (Lindsay Wade), who has a chance to be really good for us,” Tahlequah coach Matt Cloud said. “That gives us three kids who can pitch in big games for us. We should be OK.
“If we stay healthy and play good defense, I think we can make another run at the state title. We’re a young team, but I think we can get just as hot as last year’s team.”
The Lady Tigers coming out of Oktaha, a runner-up to Panama in 2A last season, lost only two starters to graduation. Otherwise, coach Kia Holmes’ squad remains intact and led by pitcher Madyson Fox, who compiled a 31-10 record with 284 strikeouts and two no-hitters.
“Hopefully, she’ll have another good year for us. She’s already had a good high school career for us,” Holmes said. “I’m hoping she can finish off her career on a good note.”
Holmes said her team hasn’t forgotten the 1-0 loss to Panama in the 2A title game last fall.
“I overheard them talking while we’ve been practicing about how bad it hurt to lose that game and how they’re ready to go back,” she said. “I’m hoping that will be a motivating factor and we use that experience in our favor.”
Coleman’s team returns eight starters from the 21-21 team of a year ago.
“I definitely think we’ve got a chance to be pretty good,” Coleman said. “A lot depends on our pitching and in this sport, that’s paramount.”
Paige Gann, who was 14-6, and Shaylee Rowland (5-12) are returning pitchers who are also potent offensively. Gann hit .446 with 16 doubles, 4 home runs and 44 RBIs. Rowland .407 with 15 runs, 8 doubles, 23 RBIs.
Coleman is making some position moves with a couple of his other big returning bats. Jessi Venable, a senior who hit .340 last year, moves from third to first base. Nia Maxwell hit .302 as a sophomore and moves from third base to the outfield. Brook Hendrickson, who hit .308 as a freshman, returns at short.
Coleman’s squad heads into the season after reaching the semifinals of the USSSA 18-under Open World Qualifier in Missouri late last month. They finished the summer with a 25-5-4 record.
“We saw a lot of good things and things we can improve on,” he said. “We’ll see all of our hard work this summer will pay off (with a state tournament berth) in October.”
This could be the year Sequoyah, 31-12 a year ago, gets over the hump of losing in the semifinals four consecutive years as Turtle also has returnees from the slowpitch state championship team.
To make a bid for the fastpitch state title, the Lady Indians will look to returnees including second baseman Kara Linch (.401, 6 doubles, 18 RBIs), pitcher Jessica Bluebird (20-7, 1.20 ERA) and shortstop Kelsey Leach (..429, 10 HRs, 36 RBIs).
“Those girls will be heart of our order,” Turtle said. “I think our slowpitch team winning state will be real beneficial to us.”
Coach Albis Ramos hopes for improvement from his Vian Lady Wolverines as six starters are back from last year’s 15-17 team. Jaden Bolin leads the returnees after hitting .413 with 33 hits including five doubles and 18 RBIs as a sophomore.
“Hitting should be one of our strengths this season,” Ramos said. “I think our defense will get better. We also have a good mixture of experienced and young players. If everybody accepts their role, we can do something good.”
Two other players anticipating good seasons are Warner senior third baseman Brandi Center and Hilldale sophomore Destiny Riddle.
“Brandi is a four-year starter for us,” Warner coach George Dotson said. “We’re going to have a lot of new faces.”
Riddle may find herself under more pressure than other players this season. The Phoenix Newcomer of the Year as a freshman hit .510 with 49 hits 14 doubles. She replaces her graduated sister Danielle in the circle in 2012 after spelling her on occasion last season, going 2-3 with an ERA of 2.41. Two of those losses were to 6A clubs.
“Destiny knows what’s expected of her,” coach Darren Riddle, also Destiny’s father, said. “She’s played her whole life on competitive teams. She’s ready for this season.”
She was one of four freshmen starters (Sarah Hughey, Casady Mills and Hillary Calvert the others) on a squad that was eliminated in the regional finals in Class 4A, finishing 26-8. Also back are seniors Kallie Casey and Katie Keifer in between.
Fort Gibson, which made the 4A state tournament last year, graduated seven starters off a 26-12 team. Catcher McKenzie Williams, second baseman Miranda Cherry and third baseman Raelee Waltman are back.
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