Seven area softball teams — five of them ranked in the top six in their respective classes — will take their last step on a road they all hope will lead to this year’s slowpitch state tournament when they compete in regional tournaments Thursday at sites across southern Oklahoma.
But Roff, ranked No. 3 in Class 2A, is one of only two area heavyweight hosting a regional this week. The Lady Tigers will face Turner at 1 p.m. to open a four-team tournament that also includes No. 7 Soper and No. 14 Keota. Elsewhere in 2A, No. 6 Stonewall will be the No. 2 seed in a regional at Davenport that includes the host squad, No. 2 Binger-Oney and No. 11 Welch.
In Class 5A, No. 12 Byng will be the third seed in the regional at Purcell, which also features the fifth-ranked Lady Dragons, No. 8 Blanchard and No. 14 Sulphur; in 4A, No. 3 Latta will be the top seed in the regional at Davis, where the host Lady Wolves (ranked No. 10), No. 6 Mangum and Latta’s first-round opponent, Dibble, are also in the field; and in Class A, No. 4 Tupelo will travel to Asher, where the fifth-ranked Lady Indians will host a deep regional that also includes No. 11 Caney and No. 13 Maud.
At Roff, the Lady Tigers (24-10) will be trying to return to the slowpitch state tournament after being ousted at their regional a year ago for just the second time in Kathy Gregson’s eight years as head coach.
“We’re happy to be hosting, and we think it’s a good draw,” Gregson said of her regional assignment. “We beat Soper (6-3) at the Colbert Tournament, but they’re solid. Keota is 21-8 but they haven’t played the schedule we have.
“Turner is more of a mystery,” she said. “But I know from past experience that they’re usually a pretty good hitting team.”
Gregson’s club need an “if-necessary” game to get past Bowlegs at last week’s district tournament, but the Lady Tigers closed things out with authority, posting a run-rule 14-2 victory.
“I feel like we need to turn it up,” Gregson said. “Right now we’re a little bit sporadic both offensively and defensively. We’re playing okay, but we need to get into regional tournament mode.”
Stonewall (23-11) also needed an “if” game and a clutch two-out double by Allie Denson in the sixth inning of that game before finally disposing of host Stuart, 7-5, in the district round. Coach Christie Jennings said she likes her regional draw, even though the Lady Longhorns will be playing on the road.
“We’re pretty pleased — we were wishing we could host it, but we feel like we got a winnable draw, so we’ll gladly drive to Davenport,” she said. “It’ll be like any regional. We will have to play good fundamental softball to advance.”
Like Gregson, Jennings said she is looking for her veteran team to ramp up its intensity this week.
“We have definitely not been as crisp as I would like lately,” she said. “I’m starting to see glimpses of the Stonewall team that played so well early in the season, though. I’m hoping they just all show up at the right time. Timing is everything in the playoffs.”
Although Byng will be traveling to a regional that includes a couple of traditional softball powers in Purcell and Blanchard, coach Andi Grissom said she is happy with her team’s assignment this week.
“I think all of Class 5A is tough, but if we can’t beat the No. 5 and the No. 8 team, then we don’t deserve to go (to the state tournament), anyway,” she noted. “I’m perfectly fine with Purcell. We don’t have the 1, 2, 3 or 4 teams (in 5A) in our regional.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for us,” Grissom added. “We just have to go play.”
Grissom said the survivors from this round of the playoffs are almost always the teams who get hot at the plate at the right time.
“I think that’s typical for everybody — you watch girls all around the area, and it comes down to who’s hitting,” she explained. “I think our defense is good enough, even though we’re young. We only have three starters who haven’t hit it out this year, and those three do a lot of good things for us. When our girls come together and we’re hitting, we take on a whole new personality. If we hit we can play with anybody, I think.”
As the regional’s No. 2 seed, the Lady Pirates (20-12) will open against Blanchard at 2:15 p.m. Thursday. Grissom said she has done some scouting and feels her club — which beat host Coalgate twice to advance out of last week’s district tournament and has played just two home games this spring because of renovations at Bobby Johns Field — should fit with the other teams in the regional.
“I’ve gotten quite a bit of information on them,” she said. “Purcell has beaten Blanchard, and people we’ve beaten have beaten Purcell. We could have ended up at Washington with Little Axe and Chandler, or we could have ended up at a regional with Newcastle, who hit eight or 10 home runs against us at the Harrah Tournament.”
Latta’s Jim Foster has been a regular at the slowpitch state tournament over the past seven years, and he said Monday’s loss to Sulphur at home could be a good sign for his club.
“I think we’re ready to play,” he said. “We went to Byng (last Monday) and didn’t play well (in a one-run loss), then we dominated in our district (outscoring the opposition, 47-0, in three games). I think we’ll go down there and be focused.”
Foster said facing a Dibble squad in the regional opener that was manhandled, 26-0, by 4A No. 1 Dale earlier this month should be an advantage for the 26-9 Lady Panthers.
“You have to go win two (games) where you go,” he said. “It could have been easier, it could have been harder. If you hit and score, you have a good chance to win on the winner’s side or the loser’s side.
“We beat Davis early in the season, and we saw Mangum at the Okemah Festival,” Foster said. “If you win that first game, it makes it easy, because you just have to win one of the next two you’re in to make it to the state tournament.”
While the other area coaches seemed pretty satisfied with their regional draws, Tupelo’s Missy Rogers said her 16-7 squad might have been dealt a little bit tougher hand than it deserved.
“I think it’s an extremely tough regional,” she said. “You have No. 4, 5, 11 and 13 all in the same regional.
“I think we have a great shot if we show up and work hard,” Rogers predicted. “That’s what I want to see — us mentally show up.”
Despite youth at a lot of positions, the Lady Tigers have waded through one of Class A’s toughest schedules while steadily climbing up the rankings.
“We’ve improved a lot since the start of the season,” said Rogers, whose club will face Caney at 2:15 p.m. Thursday, following a showdown between Asher and Maud at 1 p.m.. “We’re a lot more confident, and we’re playing better.
“We played really well in our district,” she added. “We hit the ball well and defensively we played well overall.”
Although Leedey, Red Oak and Hammon have looked like the class of Class A this spring, Davis said her girls have the talent to make things interesting if they reach the state tournament.
“Leedey, Red Oak and Hammon are three outstanding ball clubs, but I think it’s anybody’s game if we go play well,” she said. “We can definitely play better than we have. As a coach and a player, you have room for improvement every day. There’s alway something you can polish.
“Our strength of schedule speaks for itself,” she said. “Playing good teams helps you get ready come playoff time.”