By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
It isn’t often that a player makes this kind of impression on so many.
Tahlequah junior Randee O’Donnell received all the votes for shortstop on the All-Phoenix fastpitch softball team, as chosen by the Phoenix staff and correspondents who cover the area, as well as area coaches.
Since she also won the Most Valuable Player award, the shortstop position was vacated.
That’s never happened since voting began for the team in 2002.
There was a moment of seemingly stunned silence when she was told about that by phone last week.
“That is a big honor .... of course I’m surprised,” she said. “There really are a lot of good players at that position and a lot of good players in this area.”
O’Donnell hit .558 for the 29-8 Class 5A quarterfinalist with 61 RBIs and 11 home runs. In a high-traffic position she made just five errors in 37 games.
Perhaps her greatest feat was posing a serious threat to the school’s RBI record set by current Oklahoma Sooner Erica Sampson, who played outfield on last year’s College World Series championship finalist squad.
“Who would have thought a junior would come close to that?” she said. “To me that was a big accomplishment.”
Her coach, Matt Cloud, saw in her quite the accomplished player.
“Recalling her year, I don’t think there was a game she didn’t have a hit in,” he said. “She got a lot of intentional walks down the stretch which was frustrating for her and us. We’d still try to take advantage of her by trying to steal on the first pitch to the next batter.
“And most of those errors came in wet games. She wasn’t one to let anything get by her.”
There wasn’t any more frustrating game for O’Donnell than the state quarterfinal loss to Chickasha. She got one hit on the day — and was intentionally walked three times in the 6-2 loss.
“I like that they respected me but you want to hit in that situation,” she said. “To not get the chances was definitely frustrating.”
There’s plenty of chances left for O’Donnell. She’s shifted her focus for now to basketball where she averaged 13 points per game as a sophomore. She also made the All-Phoenix slowpitch team last spring and has already committed to Oklahoma State in fastpitch.
Fort Gibson pitcher Madison Higley made her own splash in her first season of high school ball, being voted Newcomer of the Year. The left-handed freshman’s 0.77 ERA and 284 strikeouts were area highs as well as 19 shutouts, three no-hitters and two perfect games.
“I knew what she could do having seen her in junior high. You’re never sure how a kid will respond at the high school level but she definitely exceeded my expectations,” said her coach, Jaime Snyder.
Snyder said Higley was clocked on radar at 64 mph at a Rogers State tournament this season.
“She probably had more strikeouts than anyone in the state. She’s going to grow physically over the next couple of years and her speed will increase. She’ll learn the game more and how to pitch around good hitters, but there isn’t much she really needs to improve on,” Snyder said.
Jeff Turtle’s Sequoyah Lady Indians were one out away from their first state championship in Class 3A this season, losing 1-0 to Little Axe. Going 31-8, he was close enough to edge Hilldale’s Darren Riddle by one vote for Coach of the Year. Cloud was the other finalist.
With the two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Sequoyah second baseman Taylor Thompson made a back-handed stop on a ball hit by Little Axe’s Reagan McDoulett up the middle, and Thompson tried to flip it to teammate and shortstop Kara Linch for the force out.
However, the ball bounced off Linch’s glove and Little Axe’s Ally Allen raced home from third base safely and the Lady Indians’ first appearance in the finals ended in tearful disappointment.
“People will remember that one mistake but we got a runner (Rhanda Walker) thrown out at third, a couple of other chances we didn’t get timely hits. There’s enough there to torment you with what-ifs, so it wasn’t just one fielding error,” Turtle said.
“I’ve thought a lot about what we might have done differently. What if I hadn’t had (Rhanda) take third, what if we’d held up. We’d still been runners at first and second. The wind was blowing, it was cold and I thought now’s the chance. It took a perfect throw.”
Destiny Riddle of Hilldale was runner-up in the MVP voting. She was one of three selected as pitchers, the others being Jessica Bluebird of Sequoyah and Madyson Fox of Oktaha.
In the infield, Wagoner’s Cherokee Ridge is the first baseman with Kirsten Chase of Tahlequah at second. Mckensie Plant, a freshman, was voted the top third baseman and Sequoyah’s Kara Linch and Fort Gibson’s Miranda Cherry, both second basemen, were added as the next biggest vote-getters among infielders.
Marisa Girdner of Tahlequah, Katie Keifer of Hilldale and Baylee Ratliff of Sequoyah were voted starters in the outfield with Muskogee’s Hannah Alexander a reserve.
Britney Johnson of Tahlequah, the team’s starting pitcher, also got the most votes as a designated hitter and Muskogee’s Paige Gann was chosen as a utility player. She pitched for the Lady Roughers.
Haskell’s Maddie Cheatham made the team as the catcher.
Sequoyah, Tahlequah and Hilldale, all state tournament qualifiers, had 11 selections between them. Hilldale, with only one senior starter, reached the quarterfinals.
Randee O’Donnell, Tahlequah, Jr.
Hit .558, 61 RBIs, 1 2Bs, 2 3Bs, 11 HRs; Oklahoma State commit made 5 errors in 37 games.
Madison Higley, Fort Gibson, Fr.
ERA of 0.77, 284 Strikeouts, 19 shut outs, three no hitters, and two perfect games (she was the Verdigris Valley Conf. Pitcher of the Year)
Jeff Turtle, Sequoyah
Team finished 31-8 and reached Class 3A championship game for first time.
Destiny Riddle, Hilldale, So.
MVP runner-up was 30-4 on the circle with 141 Ks in 184 innings, 1.51 ERA; Hit .491 in 114 at bats with 20 doubles, one 3B, five HRs and 44 RBIs;
Madyson Fox, Oktaha, Sr.
26-8 record and 1.90 ERA. Hit .401.
Jessica Bluebird, Sequoyah, Sr.
29-7 record, 1.14 ERA with 160 strikeouts (65-17 career with 365 strikeouts).
Maddie Cheatham, Haskell, Sr.
Hit .438 with six 2Bs, four 3Bs, 21 RBIs and OBP of .444. Four-year starter and All-Conf. pick.
Cherokee Ridge, Wagoner, Jr.
Hit 14 home runs, including two-walkoff home runs, and led the team in RBIs.
Kirsten Chase, Tahlequah, So.
Hit .377 with eight 2Bs, four 3Bs, four HRs and 45 RBIs.
Vacated. O’Donnell won this position but she won MVP.
Mckensie Plant, Hilldale, Fr.
Hit .452 in 117 at bats, nine 2B, one 3B, four HRs, 38 RBIs
Kara Linch, Sequoyah, Sr.
Three-year starter, hit .416 with 22 RBIs, two HRs and 22 stolen bases.
Miranda Cherry, Fort Gibson, So.
923 fielding percentage; Hit .444, with 32 RBIs, both team highs.
Marisa Girdner, Tahlequah, Jr.
Hit .398, 544 OBP, with 28 BBs and 13 stolen bases.
Katie Keifer, Hilldale, Sr.
Hit .387 in 90 at-bats with five 2Bs, 2 HRs, 29 RBIs.
Baylee Ratliff, Sequoyah, So.
Two-year starter hit .401 with 29 RBIs, four HRs and 22 stolen bases.
Hannah Alexander, Muskogee, Sr.
Hit .358 with four 2Bs, 14 RBIs, 15 stolen bases
Designated hitter/extra player:
Britney Johnson, Tahlequah, Sr.
Hit .492 with nine 2Bs, five 3Bs, 2 HRs and was 17-7 with 1.65 ERA in the circle.
Paige Gann, Muskogee, Sr.
13 wins, 1.61 ERA and 112 strikeouts; Hit .422 with 11 2Bs.