By Nick Hampton
TAHLEQUAH – It was a showdown of two veteran teams in Tahlequah on Monday.
But the late start to the season for the Oktaha Lady Tigers showed as they dropped a slowpitch softball doubleheader to another set of Tigers — those from Class 6A powerhouse Tahlequah, ranked No. 4 by Okrankings.com, by scores of 12-7 and 12-4 in a run-rule shortened six-inning contest.
Oktaha, which didn’t start its season until mid-March because of basketball playoffs, returns six starters from last year’s state quarterfinalist team. And in the first game, they got off to an early lead on Kelsey Cantwell’s two-run homer in the first inning.
“I got a good pitch and I took it that way,” said Cantwell, “I hit it hard and I hit it good.”
But Tahlequah, which also returns six starters from a state quarterfinalist team, countered with three runs in the home half of the first with a two-run hit by Whitney Wright being the key blow. Tahlequah was also helped out by two walks issued by Oktaha pitcher Callie Barnes.
Tahlequah broke things open in the second inning as they banged out six hits, including an RBI triple by Randee O’Donnell, and scored six runs to take a 9-2 lead.
A pair of Oktaha errors with two outs in the inning led to two more Tahlequah runs in the third. Tahlequah’s aggressive base running allowed them to frequently take the extra base on any play in the outfield and kept the pressure on the Oktaha defense.
Down 11-3 in the fifth, Oktaha fought back scoring three runs on four straight hits, the last being a two-run single by Kallie King. Each team tallied once more for the final count.
In the second game, Tahlequah pitcher Erin Dillard scattered nine hits for her second win of the day. As in the first game, Tahlequah broke things open with a six-run second inning with the help of two walks and two errors by Oktaha, and led 8-0 after two innings.
Oktaha tallied a pair of runs in the fifth on singles by Sierra Elam and Kelly Easterling sandwiched around a triple by Barnes. They got their final two runs in the sixth on a pair of singles and two-run triple by King, giving her four RBIs for the day. Oktaha coach Kia Holmes was not surprised by the outcome of the games given the competition.
“There’s a reason Tahlequah is ranked where they are, but I’m proud of our team for not laying down after we got behind and we fought back in both games,” said Holmes. “If we take away our errors (3 in each game), walks (13 total) and hesitancy in the outfield, we lose by just two or three runs in each game. We’re probably six to eight games behind most everyone else due to our late start and we’re still just getting our lineup tweaked the way we want it.”
Tahlequah coach Matt Cloud was glad for the wins but somewhat disappointed with his team’s inability to finish off the games.
“I think we had 14 people left on base and if we push two or three of those in each game across, we finish the games off earlier than we did,” said Cloud.“ One thing I want to avoid this year is peaking too early. I felt that last season we played our best ball in early March and so I want to slow down that build up this year.”
Oktaha (5-4) plays in the Haskell Tournament against Broken Arrow on Friday while Tahlequah (15-1) will host Fort Gibson today.