MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

May 2, 2013

One team has caught fire as baseball regionals start

By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer

— It’s a coach’s wish that his or her squad is beginning to play its best when the postseason rolls around.

For Fort Gibson baseball coach Randy Smith, his wish might have been granted as the Tigers enter today’s Class 4A regional having won 10 of their last 12 games, including a current a seven-game winning streak.

“It’s hard to put a finger on it,” Smith said. “We just kept moving people around until we figured something out. They finally started playing together more instead of just as individuals."

The Tigers as a host are among 10 teams in regional play today. Berryhill is their opponent at 11 a.m. with 4A state champion Hilldale playing Stilwell at 1 p.m. in the same regional.

Muskogee plays Union at Union in 6A at 1 p.m., same time as Tahlequah at Tulsa Memorial, which is playing that regional host. In 3A regionals, host Vian meets Kansas at 11 a.m., followed by Sequoyah vs. Morris. Eufaula plays host Spiro and Stigler meets Hartshorne. Both regionals are also 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. starts.

In 2A, Oktaha faces Talihina in a 1 p.m. game at Crowder and at Caney Valley, Warner meets Fairland, also at 1 p.m.

Fort Gibson’s streak began April 16 with a thrilling 8-7, 11-inning victory at home over Sallisaw in a game that lasted almost four hours. But Smith points out a game April 9 could have been the catalyst for the surge.

“A week before Sallisaw, we got down 7-0 in the first game against Keys and came back to run-rule them (17-7),” Smith said. “We lost a couple in between there but finally started gelling and they realized we got a shot at better things.”

“We started getting timely hitting. Sometimes people won’t listen to you while they’re struggling until they’ve struggled.”

Since the Keys game, the Tigers (15-14) are averaging 7.2 runs per game while holding the opposition to 3.5 runs per contest.

"They’ve started focusing on hitting the ball instead of hitting the long ball,” Smith said. "And since then, it has actually generated more long balls. Also, we‘re getting hitting throughout the entire lineup.

“At one point this season, we had three guys that weren’t hitting .050 and four below .100. All of a sudden, balls started falling in that were getting caught and a lot of it was the guys relaxing and loosening up.”

Last Thursday, Fort Gibson began their postseason with a sweep of Wagoner in the district tournament and it was the pitching that led the way. Eric Hudson started game one against the Bulldogs and held them to one run on three hits in the 8-1 win, while Tristan Johnson and Boo Seward combined to surrender no earned runs in the 10-7 win that capped the sweep.

“We’ve had pretty goog pitching all year,” Smith said. “Earlier, they were walking too many batters. But we’ve cut down on the walks and that has helped tremendously.”

While the Tigers are playing their best baseball of the season, according to Smith, the coach feels the best is yet to come.

“We’ve still got some barriers that we need to work on,” Smith said. “We’re starting to come up there but hopefully, we haven’t peaked out yet.”