By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
EDMOND – The third time wasn’t a charm.
That big burst of runs Vian got in back-to-back games to get to the Class 3A championship game didn’t materialize once there on Saturday. Meanwhile, two-time champion Verdigris got a third title by chipping away at the Wolverines with small ball in a 7-1 victory at Santa Fe High School.
The second-ranked Wolverines (34-3) started this game the same way they had the previous two with leadoff batter Landon Decker recording a hit. But after scoring six quarterfinal and five semifinal runs against Stroud and Marlow, they would come up empty this time. Dalton Morris and Rylee Simon struck out and on the latter’s third strike, Decker was gunned down by Cardinals catcher Riley Keizer trying to steal second.
It would be a sign of things to come, though Morris redeemed himself with a third-inning double to right to score Rowdy Simon, who had led off the frame with his own two-bagger. Morris was out at third trying to stretch it into a triple, but the run gave Vian a 1-0 advantage.
The Cardinals tied it in their half of the third without the benefit of a hit, then went in front to stay when Reese Phillips doubled home Keizer, who was hit by a pitch with one out and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt.
Top-ranked Verdigris was out-hit 7-6 but got much more mileage out of the ones it got.
“This team had a hard time buying in on our short game until about the regional tournament,” said Verdigris coach Brian Keith, the cousin of Connors State coach Perry Keith. “I coach fastpitch softball in the fall so I’m all about bunt, bunt, bunt.”
The Cardinals added two more runs in the fifth on one hit. Rowdy Simon, the Wolverines’ starter on the mound for the decisive game, almost worked himself out of a bases-loaded jam, getting two infield pop-ups before walking Keizer on a 3-1 pitch to force in a run.
Simon, who hadn’t thrown in a game since the Stilwell Tournament 2 1/2 weeks ago, was relieved by Brett Hooper, who brushed Peyton Battenfield’s shirt – Vian coach John Brockman’s admitted discovery about his discussion with the home plate umpire just after the call – with his first delivery for the other run, making it a 4-1 contest.
Three more in the sixth iced it.
“Rowdy threw well enough to keep us in it,” Brockman said. “When you don’t score but one run you won’t win many games.”
His pitcher, one of five seniors who have played 3-4 years, did what he could with the bat. He finished his career 3-for-3 with two doubles.
“I would have liked to pitch in a game in between starts but getting a bye in district then a rainout in regional took me out of it,” Rowdy Simon said. “I thought I battled but by the fifth I knew I was tiring a little.”
Jon Andrews was available, having gone seven in the quarterfinal win, but Brockman said it was never an option in his mind. Andrews had exceeded 120 pitches in beating Stroud 9-6.
“I’ve been in this business a long time and I’ve never been in the business to hurt a kid,” Brockman said. “He’s got a future in this game and I’m not about to ruin it.”
Keith never thought about not sending out Blake Battenfield, the Verdigris ace who went the distance in a quarterfinal win over Oklahoma Christian. The 6-foot-4 Oklahoma State signee got the ball from Keith to start the fifth, relieving J.W. Owens. He gave up three hits and struck out two.
“Vian’s too good a hitting team and we wanted to go with our plan with was to try to get five out of our No. 3 (Owens),” Keith said. “But Blake came to me before the fifth and said ‘coach, I want it now.’”
Owens left with a 2-1 lead, surrendering three hits. He walked Dan Weer and Shawn Troutman with one out in the fourth, but a stab by third baseman Ryan Skalnik off Andrews’ hard-hit grounder down the line became a double play to end the inning.
Verdigris finishes with a 32-2 mark and their 16th straight win. The Wolverines, who committed two errors after surviving six in the semifinal win against Marlow, ended an 18-game win streak with the loss.