, Muskogee, OK

May 1, 2013

Leach, Sequoyah softball back in a zone

By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor

— Kelsey Leach remembers it and the pain she felt.

The 1-0 loss to Little Axe in the Class 3A fastpitch championship game stung enough. What hurt even more was that there wasn’t a thing she could do about it.

Leach had been ruled ineligible by the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, which said that the junior had transferred to Sequoyah and not sat out one year or applied for a hardship waiver in order to play varsity games as a freshman. Later, though, the Leach family filed proof of residence with the OSSAA, proving their home is in a dependent school district in Adair County. With the proof, a waiver for eligibility was not required.

By November, her eligibility was reinstated. A month later, the 2012 slowpitch title that had also been stripped because of the eligibility question was handed back to the school.

All that was left was the what-ifs that came with a game that came down to the final out of the seventh inning.

Had she played, could Leach have had a key hit earlier in the game, producing enough runs that an error didn’t lead to the only run?

“It was hard to just sit there and watch,” Leach said.

And wonder.

Redemption has slowly come. She was part of the Lady Indians’ first state tournament basketball team in four seasons on a team that lost in the quarterfinals. Now, she and her eighth-ranked team are seeking a repeat slowpitch title which they’ll begin defense of at 11:15 a.m. against No. 5 Cache at ASA Hall of Fame Complex in Oklahoma City.

It’s a chance to relive the celebration last spring and atone for the one that wasn’t in the fall.

“Having it taken away, obviously was something that happened after the fact,” said Larry Shade, the Sequoyah coach, from the team’s Oklahoma City hotel on Tuesday night. “It was tough for her until everything got straightened out. I don’t think she’s just glad being part of this with her teammates. It’s just their goal in everything to get here. We went to state in basketball, something she wasn’t going to get to do at first, but did. It’s been a bittersweet time but we’re now looking forward (to today).”

They also shook the burden of a 5-10 start to win 10 consecutive games heading into this morning’s contest — a start which Shade called a “torture chamber.”

All 10 losses were to 6A teams — all but one competing in the 6A state bracket. Five were by one run, two by two runs.

“We had our heads down,” said Kara Linch, a senior in her sixth state tournament (combined fastpitch and slowpitch).

But things began to jell and a team Shade says has the best infield in the state and a top-heavy power lineup is ready to defend. Linch at second, Leach at short, Megan Towie at third and Taylor Owl at first turned four double plays at regionals. Leach has nine home runs, Linch has five and Mariah Hooper had three.

“We ended that streak against Oktaha in the three-way we were in at Muskogee and from that point things clicked,” Shade said. “We beat Henryetta (which is in state) and at the time they were No. 4 in 5A and that kind of reminded us what we were capable of.  The fact we were in many of those losses against 6A, hey, part of me would like to play in that bracket.”

Ambitious yes, but maybe it’s just best to go prove that what was taken from you temporarily should have never left its home.