MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Prep Sports

April 30, 2013

Rougher ‘sisters’ seek one last divine moment

They’re peas in a pod, Sisters of the Yeah-Yeah.

No, not Ya-Ya, even though as in the sisters that movie, these may have a few divine secrets too. In this case, Yeah-Yeah would be more appropriate — being that softball teams, Muskogee’s among them,  like to do their own dugout cheers.

Thing is, they’ve been doing it since they were 5 so it was only natural for them to come together as part of the program’s first middle school team, as eighth-graders.

Like the Ya-Yas, they’ve stuck together through a lot anyway, from anxiety moments to bird attacks on them in the outfield.

“I’ve been with them my whole life, gone to the same school with them,” Kelsey McClure said. I didn’t play fastpitch in high school but we’ve always had a common goal to win state together.”

And here comes that final shot for McClure, Paige Gann, Jessi Venable Hannah Alexander and Morgan Taylor. The Lady Roughers open the Class 6A state tournament Wednesday against Union at 10 a.m. at ASA Hall of Fame Complex. They’re 1-3 in the past three seasons here, making the semifinals as sophomores. The last time Muskogee won state was the year they were just entering the program at Alice Robertson Middle School.

“We’d played fastpitch all that time leading up to it at Hatbox but my sister (Tori, now playing at Northeastern State) was hearing that they were starting a junior high program and it just seemed natural for us. We’ve been there for each other and with each other all the time,” said Venable, who in fact had one of the highlights of that one-loss first eason

Muskogee coach Keith Coleman didn’t have to look hard for them among 60 or so that tried out, including a number of juniors on the current team.

“They were special being the first group and it’s really given us a window into what we had coming up,” Coleman said.

Gann, the first baseman, is second on the team in average at the plate (.640) and home runs (10). Venable, the All-Phoenix Newcomer of the Year as a freshman, is hitting .467 and catches. McClure has played both infield and outfield and posts a .388 average. Taylor, the pitcher, hits .342. Alexander, the rover, hits .333.

The coach admits he’s had better teams, but this one has a special spot

“I’ve had a couple of groups with more ability but none of them were this close, this team-oriented,” Coleman said. “And it really comes down to who is playing well at the moment, so this bunch has as much of a chance as any team I’ve had. Their character and work ethic is phenomenal. This team has a 3.65 grade point average and their great kids, great to be around. These girls have baby-sat for me.  I consider them as part of my family.

“These five haven’t ever been about personal stats.  When I look back I think part of that may have come about because they have always had a couple of girls ahead of them that had the majority of the limelight. When they came here it was the group of Madison Reed, Hannah Hamilton and Jordan Clark just coming off winning state, all hitting at or near .600.  Last year it was CoCo Epps, a senior (who shares with Hamilton the season home run mark of 20).”

None of them are in a position to feel this more than Taylor, who is well aware of an umpiring tendency out west to shorten the top of the strike zone, making pitchers flatten out the arch that otherwise makes them a key part of the game. Her stats are at the mercy of this.

“It is what it is and I’ve got a defense behind me,” she said. “I feel like if we play defense like we can and hit like we can no one will beat us.”

Gann, admittedly the high-strung one of the bunch, says it’s just who they are.

“We’ve all been there together and so it’s always been about all of us together,” she said. “We are like sisters.”

Together they took part in an off-the-field moment that Coleman called “one of the best moments of his career.”

Venable and Bailee Hendrickson, a sophomore on the team were at a revival at Timothy Baptist where they accepted Christ. When they were baptized, Gann, who also attends the church, the other seniors and the team as a whole showed up in support.

“It meant a lot,” Venable said.

Coleman, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes sponsor at the school, concurred.

“Obviously we’re playing softball but there’s also an active element in what we do in regard to making them better people down the road,” he said.

For Venable and Gann, that will include softball at NSU. McClure is pursuing basketball, her destination next year still not clear. Alexander and Taylor will hang it up.

The look on Alexander’s face seemed to strike that reality.

Time is ticking down on this road.

“Last year ever for me. We might as well bring it home,” she said.

A title, and one last yeah-yeah for the sisters.

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