, Muskogee, OK

Prep Sports

November 3, 2013

A tough group to break into

State teams load up squad of year’s best

Destiny Riddle would be the first to admit it wasn’t a perfect year.

But it was a perfect finish and the impact of that finish accentuated what, if not perfect, was an outstanding year in a sport where outstanding was a commonly shared characteristic.

The Hilldale junior, who finished her season with a one-hit shutout in the Class 4A state championship game, was selected by a decisive margin as the Most Valuable Player on the All-Phoenix fastpitch softball team as selected by area coaches, Phoenix sports staff and correspondents and a contributing voter from the Tahlequah Daily Press.

The right-handed pitcher posted an 0.94 ERA with 201 strikeouts and 52 walks in 171 1/3 innings and hit .410 with 10 home runs and 18 walks. She capped the year  by taking no-hitters into the seventh inning in both the semifinal against Blanchard and the championship game against Bethel. Hilldale won both games, 5-2 over Blanchard and 7-0 against Bethel.

“Honestly it took her well into the year to get into a flow pitching-wise,” said her coach, Darren Riddle. “Near the end of the summer, one of the pitchers on our summer team was hurt and she threw more than normal. In the summer you throw a lot on the weekend and then you’re off for several days whereas in the fall, it’s every other day or so for nearly three months. She’s better when she consistently throws a lot.

“Offensively she was more streaky than she usually is but we had a lot of girls like that and our success came because someone different would always pick us up.”

The younger Riddle said she didn’t feel in a zone in the circle until regionals.

“The end of the year I felt really good,” she said. “If I keep throwing like I have here lately, I think I can be pretty good next year.”

Then she added, “I’m ready to start next year tomorrow.”

So goes it for a pitcher on a team that will defend its state title with every hand back on deck. Hilldale rose to the No. 1 ranking in the OSSAA 4A poll in September and stayed there, going 35-5 and it gave both daughter and father honors on this team. Darren Riddle was voted coach of the year.

“It’s easy to come to practice with a group like this where the kids work hard and we get done what we need to without staying until 6 p.m.,” he said. “They hook it up, get after it and they’ve been that way even when we lost in the quarterfinals last year. They’ve been mad ever since.”

The value of the honors comes during a year where six area teams made the state tournament — Hilldale and Fort Gibson in 4A, Muskogee in 6A, Tahlequah in 5A and Sequoyah and Oktaha in 2A. Sequoyah reached the finals, Tahlequah the semifinals.

“He put us in some really tough tournaments and against tough competition and I think that really helped us get to where we got,” Destiny Riddle said.

The coach just wished he could have shared this with more of his team.

“It’s hard when you go through that voting process and you’re handicapped from voting for your own kids (coaches are limited to voting for one of their own). We got some girls who missed out and were close. I’m not saying this against any other girl who made it but I know the work and time our kids put in and they all really did a great job. But there were a lot of good players in this area.”

Mackensie Plant, who hit .419 and played third base, was the other Lady Hornet. Destiny’s older sister, Danielle, was a four-time selection for the team and an MVP in 2011, also as a pitcher. She’s now playing at Oklahoma State. For Destiny, it’s her third time to be selected.

Newcomer of the Year honors went to Muskogee’s Lexi Watson, who was 8-0 on the mound with an 0.78 ERA in 46 innings and hit .381 with 13 doubles and 8 home runs.

“She has all the tools — hitting for power, hitting for average, defensive ability, arm strength and speed,” said Muskogee coach Keith Coleman. “People were scared to death to pitch to her because of her size and power.

“This summer in our very first tournament, a game to go the finals as an incoming freshman, we’re down two going into the bottom of the last inning and she hit a three-run home run to get us to the finals as 13-year-old who at the time was going against an 18-year-old college commit. One she hit in the fall that stands out was the home run against Union in the regional final that got us going. Hers was a solo shot but it woke us up and got us the lead for good. She’s someone people are going to be hearing a lot from the next three years.”

Joining Watson from the 6A quarterfinalists was pitcher Shaylee Rowland, second baseman Aubrey Johnson and outfielder Dee Emarthle.

Fort Gibson’s battery of Madison Higley, the second-leading vote-getter at pitcher behind Riddle, and catcher Mackenzie Williams were named to the team. Sequoyah first baseman Megan Towie and reserve pitcher Katie Phillips, Tahlequah shortstop Randee O’Donnell, who was last year’s MVP, reserve catcher Whitney Wright and outfielder Marisa Girdner also made it. Oktaha had a pair of selections, both as reserves — first baseman Kelsey Cantwell and third baseman Taylor Pevehouse.

Only three players from teams not making it to state were voted in: Porum outfielder Carly Anderson and reserves, second baseman Payton Jackson of Warner and outfielder Addison Elbon of Vian.

“It was much more difficult this year than in year’s past because you had so many good teams and good teams are made up of good players,” Coleman said. “About half the girls I voted for didn’t make it. I felt we deserved a couple more but yet you take these teams year in year out and you have six that make state and one state champion, well a lot of kids would be on it but it being exclusive is part of what’s special about making it.”

 And it may be that way again next year. Only six members of this year’s team — Rowland, Towie, O’Donnell, Girdner, Pevehouse and Wright — graduate. Seven were either sophomores or freshmen.

Joining Riddle and O’Donnell as repeat selections were Higley, Plant and Girdner.

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