By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — Many low-seeded teams go into their postseasons with a defeatist’s attitude. They believing they’re worse than the competition and will quickly lose, and usually that’s exactly what happens.
The McAlester Lady Buffaloes took a fourth-seed into their Oct. 9 Regional tournament at Claremore. But instead of fearing the competition, the Lady Buffs went at Skiatook and Claremore, going undefeated the first day and coming within eight outs of a trip to State.
“I challenged them after our last ballgame with Tahlequah to see if were mentally able to go back and compete at the level that we can, and they rose to that challenge,” Lady Buffs coach Justin Bond on Tuesday.
“We wish we could’ve put ourselves in a better Regional, which really probably ended up being the difference=. Because I really believe how we were playing at the end, we were a state tournament-caliber team.”
The Lady Buffs started their Regional by beating Skiatook, 6-4, on Oct. 9. Cheyenne Selman then pitched a no-hitter against Claremore that day to put McAlester a game away from State.
Battling hip and lower back pain all season, Selman didn’t pitch the last week of the regular season so she’d be able to pitch at Regionals. The strategy worked, as Selman pitched all 26 innings at Regionals, giving up six earned runs and striking out 28.
“She was hurting on the last day, and she’s established herself as one of the fiercest competitors that we’ve had,” Bond said of Selman.
“Claremore only pitched to her once in the final day for the two ballgames, giving her the respect offensively. And in the circle, she basically dominated them almost for two ballgames.”
The Lady Buffs went up 2-0 on Claremore in the fourth inning of Thursday’s championship game, with April Calistro and Courtney Smith both dropping down sacrifice bunts to help push runs across. But Claremore tied the game in the bottom of the fourth, then took the lead on two errors in the sixth to win 4-2.
Down 1-0 in Thursday’s if-game, Smith beat out an infield single to lead off the top of the seventh. Two ground outs got Smith to third, but Vhitney Garner grounded out to end the game and send Claremore to State.
“We had plenty of opportunities to get hits earlier, in the second game especially, to bust it open,” Bond said. “We really didn’t come up with those situational hits, or we score five or six runs.”
Had McAlester finished higher in its district, it might’ve drawn or even hosted an easier Regional. But Selman’s injuries took her out of the pitching circle after the team beat Edison Prep on Sept. 9, and the Lady Buffs never regained their footing.
By the time Selman returned to play Bishop Kelley on Sept. 30, the Lady Buffs had lost five district games in a row. Bond said Erica Martin, Adisyn Webster and Kylee Impson all have a chance to be the Lady Buffs’ ace next year.
“How I’ll do it is we’ll go until somebody proves that they can earn a spot,” Bond said.
“You never know who’s going to respond next year and who’s going to do what.”
For seniors Smith, Selman, Ariana Garner, Baylee Dawkins and Stacey Washington, Thursday marked the end of their high school softball careers.
“Stacey really kind of secured the outfield for us, and Courtney had one of the strongest arms on the team,” Bond said. “Baylee was always a rock and steady for us in the infield, and it’s hard to replace what Selman did in the circle.
“The senior class cared a lot about our team and how we performed each and every day. They laid it out on the line when times were tough, and they were a big part of it when times were good.”
Of those seniors, all but Garner started, leaving several big gaps to fill before the Fall 2014 season. But starting catcher Heather Morgano, third baseman April Calistro and second baseman Vhitney Garner should all be back, as should veteran player Jaleed Serhan, who missed most of the season with an injury but returned for Regionals and scored a run.
“Vhitney, Heather, April Calistro, Jaleed Serhan, all of them will need to step up and lead us,” Bond said.
“I believe they can, they believe they can, and we will do everything we can to get them where they need to be.”
The Lady Buffs finished their season 16-22. Fourteen of their opponents, Bond said, qualified for their state tournaments.
Contact Matt Goisman at firstname.lastname@example.org.