Bob Forrest Guest Sports Writer
The Ada News
Tupelo and Stonewall are only eight miles apart, but it took the Oklahoma Second Schools Activities Association to put them on the same field for the first time this spring.
Clay Weller’s top-ranked Tigers will meet Chuck Barton’s 8-15 Longhorns Thursday in the first game of their Class B Regional Tournament at Tupelo. And, although The four-team field also includes Varnum and Geronimo, Weller and Barton both expected to see each other this week.
“I felt like we’d probably get Stonewall here because they’re close,” said Weller, whose club began the postseason as the top seed in Class B for the first time since the spring of 2008. “I don’t know anything about Geronimo, and I don’t know anything about Varnum. The only team’s they’ve played that I’ve seen is Roff.”
“It’s exactly what I expected,” Barton said of his regional draw. “I don’t want to drive down and face Tupelo, but outside of Tupelo it’s a pretty good draw for us. I think we can compete with Geronimo and Varnum. We just have to figure out a way to get by Tupelo.”
While their No. 1 ranking earned the Tigers the right to host a regional, the area’s other small-school powers — defending Class A spring champion Roff and Class B No. 5 Asher — will have to travel to nail down a berth in next week’s state tournament.
Roff, ranked No. 7 in Class A, will be the top seed in a regional at Depew that includes the host squad (ranked No. 16) and unranked teams from Welch and Afton. The Tigers will take on Afton at 1 p.m., following an 11 a.m. clash between Welch and Depew. Asher, meanwhile, will face unranked Cimmaron at 1 p.m. Thursday in the second game of a regional tournament at Dover that also includes the hosts (ranked No. 11) and 20th-ranked Mulhall-Orlando, who will meet at 11 a.m.
At Tupelo, Weller’s Tigers will be an overwhelming favorite to reach their 17th consecutive Class B state tournament (spring and fall) since the spring of 2004 in a regional that includes only one other ranked team — No. 13 Varnum.
“Any time you’re ranked in the top two or three, you don’t expect to see anybody in the top 10 at your regional,” noted Weller, who is looking for his fourth state title at Tupelo but his first since the fall of 2007. “It kind of comes with the territory.”
Tupelo reeled off 13 straight victories after opening the season with a loss to Ardmore from Class 5A, but the Tigers have struggled over the past three weeks and will enter the regional at 18-6 after mauling outmanned Mill Creek at last week’s district tournament.
“It’s hard to say where we are right now,” Weller admitted. “We haven’t played very well the last few weeks. If we play well, we’ll be fine; if we don’t play well, we’ll have to fight and scratch.
“We’re not good enough to just show up, walk on the field and win,” he said. “It’s up to the guys how well we do.”
With Class B as wide open as it has been in years, Weller said he would like his veteran club to not only win the regional but also to earn some style points while doing it.
“The bottom line is, if we play bad and win, we’ll take it, but we want to play at a high level,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to win a state championship, and to do that we need to play well. We’re capable of it.
“If we just go out and do it, we have an opportunity to make a pretty good run, but right now we don’t know what we’ve got when we go out there,” Weller said. “That’s not a good thing this time of year.”
Weller said Stonewall — which was scheduled to play his club at a spring break festival that was rained out — is a mystery to him heading into Thursday’s game.
“We haven’t seen them, but I know they’re always pretty scrappy and they play a good schedule,” he said of the Longhorns, who number both Roff and Coalgate (No. 19 in Class 3A) among their eight victims this spring and who, like the Tigers, breezed through their district tournament. “We’re not going to take anybody lightly. We should know by now what that can get you into. This time of year you have to keep the pedal to the metal.”
While Weller has a solid 1-2-3 at the top of his rotation in seniors Matt Benedict and Trey Roberson and junior H. D. Bullard, Barton’s No. 1 starter — Marcus Sandy — has a 5-2 record on a team that has just eight wins. He said that will force him to make a tough decision regarding Thursday’s opener.
“I was hoping to play one of the other teams first to kind of set up some pitching,” Barton said. “Now I have to decide if I want to throw my No. 1 in the first game or save him for later. It’s tricky, because Clay has more weapons than I do.”
Despite their record, Barton said the Longhorns have improved late in the season.
“We’ve gotten a lot better,” he said. “The only thing that’s bad is we’re still a little bit streaky.
“We had a good district, but the teams weren’t as good as we’re going to play this week,” Barton added. “If we can get some pitching and play some defense, I think we’ll be all right. We have to try to keep Tupelo from scoring and scratch out some runs when we can.”
While Tupelo was red hot to start the season, Roff lost six of its first 14 games. But coach Ead Simon — whose teams have claimed five spring state titles in Class A or B since 2004 — has the Tigers on a roll heading into their regional. Roff beat Asher, Class B No. 4 Lookeba-Sickles and Class A No. 3 Sterling in winning its own spring tournament earlier this month, and their three victories — two over Stratford and one over Allen — at last week’s district tournament extended the Tigers’ winning streak to seven and pushed their record to 15-6.