For Hilldale coach Darren Riddle, 2020 will be the swan song for the part of his career that has seen him coach three daughters since 2008, including the last of the group, Drew, seen getting congratulations before scoring in her freshman season in 2017.

Looking around the area as prep fastpitch, barring any issues with the elephant in the diamond that has already sent one program home as the season beckons:


Last ride

It’s been 11 of the last 13 years, but it’s about to all end for Darren Riddle. 

Third baseman Drew Riddle is the third of his three girls who have played under his tenure. Danielle (2008-2011), Destiny (2011-14) came before. All went or are soon headed to college ball — Danielle at Oklahoma State and Arkansas, Destiny at Southeastern Oklahoma and after this year, Drew heads to Tulsa.

Between the three, there’s been four All-Phoenix Most Valuable Player honors — Danielle in 2011, Destiny in 2013 and 2014 and Drew last season, where she hit .463 with seven ho0me runs and 45 RBIs and was 10-0 in the circle with a 1,38 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings when not playing third base. 

Destiny in 2014 has the only state title. Could another be added this year?  

The core is there. 

All-Phoenix shortstop Celeste Wood (.439, .906 fielding) like Riddle, is also TU bound and when Riddle isn’t in the circle, the Hornets have as good a left side of the infield as any. Four other starters – catcher Keely Ibarra, outfielder Madi Folsom, junior outfielder Riley Barnoskie and sophomore first baseman Lexi Cramp — round out a strong case. Ibarra hit .408 with 35 RBI and Barnoskie was not far off that at .395. Cramp will have to give Hilldale the innings lost by D2 signee Makayla Williams.  

Rayna Rock, a seventh possible returning starter, is possibly out for the year with an injury.


Last shot

That’s for four retuning senior starters at Muskogee — which constitutes two-thirds of the Roughers’ infield in first baseman/pitchers Haidyn Henry and Katlyn Clark, second base Hannah Cawhorn and shortstop Jordan Simmons, the statistical leader in an All-Phoenix junior season hitting.435 with 12 extra-base hits.

Can they lead a team that has lots of raw but talented youth?  Junior Karsyn York (.457) impressed with her bat and plays catcher and third base. There’s also outfielders Feather Johnson, a sophomore, junior transfer Avery Ragsdale and freshman Jaliyah Simmons, who can plug in anywhere and who coach Don Yates calls “one of the most talented newcomers we have ever had.”


Advanced planning

Oktaha’s infield already has three commitments among a core of six returning starters. Jocelyn Williams, a second baseman, is headed for Coffeyville (Kan.) Community.  First baseman Karley Fewel (.398) and Gracie Britten (.368) at third are Connors-bound. That gives Kira Meaders some insurance behind her as she steps in as the new regular in the circle. She’ll also have Brynn Surmont to throw to behind the plate if Surmont isn’t in the outfield. Surmont (.374) was All-Phoenix Newcomer of the Year as an outfielder in 2019. Outfielder Haylie Burress is the sixth returning starter for coach Kia Holmes.


Aim at the circle

Fort Gibson will depend on Nia Polzin, who saw spot action last year spelling four-year starter Madison Higley. There’s five other starters that will help. Jordan Hayes hit .409 and played errorless ball in 108 chances at first base as an All-Phoenix pick last year.  Seniors Abby Porterfield and Bayleigh James and juniors Jordan Hayes and Angel Lyons as well as sophomore Graci Williams are all versatile enough to plug in anywhere. Throw in two more with the same flexibility in sophomores Erica Hornback and Jolee Taylor, and coach Joe Obregon’s team could make it back to state after a year’s absence.


New coaches

Erin Bridges is new at Checotah and Ashton Howard is at Warner. Both will have some interesting pedigree on their roster. Checotah sophomore Natalie Knight, sister of former Wildcat and Connors State catcher Caleb Knight, and freshman Jensyn Foreman, sister of current CSC first/third baseman  Carson Foreman. The older Knight, whose minor league year in the Chicago Cubs organization was squashed by COVID-19, will work as an assistant coach. 

At Warner, Jensyn is penciled in at either third base, like her brother, or short. At Checotah, Natalie will catch.

Bridges will build around senior pitcher Alexis Hamilton, 14-11 with a 2.97 ERA and 115 strikeouts. Expect good things from Vanessa Henson at third base, she an All-Phoenix basketball player from a year ago. Outfielder Amanda Brown, shortstop Ciara Moore and designated hitter/second baseman Jordyn Combs are the other seniors. 

Warner is rebuilding from near scratch with Howard in charge. Six freshmen will be in the core of the mix. Foreman, Kaylen Parks at shortstop and catcher and Harlie Chesser, a utility player, are ones to watch out of that group. Hannah Powell, a pitcher/shortstop, and infielder Merci Swimmer will spark senior leadership.


What’s missing

Other than a couple of other team forms, from teams set to play, there’s Sequoyah.

The Lady Indians, who have made 12 consecutive state tournament trips, had fall sports effectively ended by Cherokee Nation officials due to the pandemic threat.


About that elephant 

Some schedules are still tentative and protocols for home games were in some cases still being finalized and may vary per park. 

Muskogee opens at Oktaha on Monday as does  Fort Gibson at Bristow on Monday.  Hilldale will host Wagoner on Tuesday.

Muskogee will require masks of all patrons for admission. Hilldale is tentatively planning to.

Hilldale and Fort Gibson are in the Broken Arrow tournament next weekend and all fans will have to sit outside the outfield fences or down the foul lines.  There will be no bleachers, no gate (teams are being asked to bring $100 to cover that.

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