By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY – The dream of a state championship came to a screeching halt for the Muskogee Lady Roughers on Wednesday.
The Union Lady Redskins opened the game with five runs in the first inning and then held on to beat Muskogee 10-8 in the Class 6A state tournament first-round game at ASA Hall of Fame softball complex.
“They didn’t give up,” said Muskogee coach Keith Coleman. “We just made too many mistakes and they made more plays on defense that we did.”
Prior to the game, the Lady Roughers were awarded the 6A slowpitch academic state championship for maintaining a 3.65 team grade-point average. The on-field miscues may have ultimately been the difference in winning the other title hardware. Union went on to defeat Jenks 16-6 for the championship after beating Westmoore 12-5 in a semifinal, making the win over Muskogee its closest call of the day.
The Redskins, 31-8 and No. 5 in the Okrankings.com final poll, began the first inning with four straight hits, the final one by Brianna Trujillo that scored Maddie Van Burkleo with the first run of the contest. After a sacrifice flies by Emily Harrison and Michal Ibison plated the next two runs, Autumn Russell sent a fly ball to center that Muskogee’s Shaylee Rowland mishandled, allowing the final two runs of the inning to cross the plate and putting the Lady Roughers, 30-9 and No. 4 in Class 6A, behind 5-0.
Muskogee scored its first run of the game in the bottom of the second on singles by Nia Maxwell and Hannah Alexander and an RBI single by Aubrey Johnson.
“We’re a tough team and we always fight to come back,” Alexander said. “I thought we would come back and beat them because we have a good offensive team. But, you know, they got next year.”
Union increased its lead to 8-1 in the top of the third on a bases-loaded double by MacKenzie Ibison. The Lady Roughers got that run back plus one more in the bottom of the frame as Dee Emarthle tripled to drive in Rowland and Emarthle came home on an error by Trujillo making the score 8-3 after three innings.
Muskogee’s Morgan Taylor got the start in the circle and surrendered only six earned runs but knew after the first inning, she had to change her pitching strategy.
“I didn’t know the height where I could throw it,” Taylor said. “So I tried to keep it short and we could play defense. But after I realized they were hitting my pitch, I knew what to do.”
Union added a run in the fourth to make it 9-3 and the scored stayed that way until the bottom of the sixth when the Lady Roughers rallied for five runs to make the score 9-8.
The rally began when Emarthle and Jessi Venable opened the frame with singles. Following a fly out by Nia Maxwell, Carlee Gann singled to load the bases and Alexander drove home Emarthle and Venable. Johnson reloaded the bases on a single and Gann and Alexander came home on Kelsey McClure’s single to make the score 9-7. The final run of the inning was courtesy of Brook Hendrickson’s sacrifice fly, scoring Johnson.
Union added another unearned run in the seventh for the final margin. The Lady Roughers saw their season come to an end by going down in order in the home half of the seventh.
With a teary-eyed team surrounding him in a post-game meeting, Coleman expressed how proud he was of this unit.
“This is a special group,” Coleman said. “The state tournament is a day where anything and everything can happen. We make costly errors on routine outs and it came back and bit us.
“The academic championship is the first in the school’s history and it falls back to the Laura Holloway Carter Scholarship and the excellent teachers and staff at Muskogee High School. That provides the girls with a lot of incentive to keep the grades up and this year it showed.”