By Matt Goisman
STUART — Neither the Stuart Hornets nor the Lady Hornets brought home a state title this fall, but both teams played well enough to at least have a chance.
For the first time in school history, both Stuart’s baseball and fast pitch softball teams made their respective Class B state tournaments over the weekend.
“We really have 30 kids and three coaches that are up there at the state tournament,” softball coach Chance Chapman said Tuesday. “When you look at it, our high school’s not that big, so when you have 30 kids going, that’s a big accomplishment.”
The Lady Hornets made it a game farther than their male counterparts. Stuart beat Caney 4-3 in the quarter-finals Thursday at the Ball Fields at Firelake in Shawnee, then lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Red Oak, 5-1.
“We had a bad inning where let them have about three runs, or it’s a 2-1 ballgame,” Chapman said of the semifinal.
“The deal with Red Oak is, they’re different from about anybody you’re going to play there, because Red Oak has been there and they’ve done that. It seems like every year, their shot is to go win it, when somebody else, realistically, might say, ‘Your shot is to get there and compete.’”
The Hornets lost in the quarter-finals Thursday at Edmond North, falling 8-0 to Class B runner-up Leedey. Both coaches said their teams felt a mix of pride and disappointment after their final game, and baseball coach Jon Booth said his Hornets probably played their best in their state-qualifier against Moss at Regionals last week.
“It was the best offensive performance of the year,” Booth said of the Moss game. “Everybody got on base at least once, everybody got a hit or scored a run, we got a two-run home run out of the eight-hole (hitter), Justin Lawrence.”
But at State, Booth said, the Hornets committed several errors.
“We have yet to win a game in the state tournament, so until you do, you don’t know how,” Booth said.
The Lady Hornets also beat Moss to advance to State. As the two schools are just half an hour away from each other, Stuart’s twin victories can only strengthen the rivalry between the two schools.
Both coaches credited part of their postseason success to their starting pitchers. Booth said Dillon Lawrence struck out 19 batters in 10 combined innings against Moss and Leedey, while Chapman said Makayla Clark walked just one batter in two State games.
“She did a great job locating her fastball and her changeup,” Chapman said of Clark. “I couldn’t ask for anything else from a 15-year-old sophomore. I think Makayla ca get stronger, both physically and mentally. She has a long way to go, but I think her ‘want to’ and desire is there.”
Both coaches will also take clear lessons from their postseason experiences into the spring. The Hornets, Booth said, will prioritize opposite-field hitting and pitching to both sides of the plate, while the Lady Hornets will work on defense heading into the slow pitch season.
“Leedey really pitched us to where we need to hit the ball to all fields, and we know we can improve in that area,” Booth said.
“And, (we’ll have) just an overall emphasis on getting a little bigger and stronger through the off-season.”
But before the spring comes the winter, which for Stuart means basketball season. Many of Stuart’s baseball players and softball players also play basketball, and between Stuart’s neighboring ball fields and back-to-back girls’ and boys’ basketball games, the same core group spends basically the entire athletic school year together.
Chapman said that creates a tight-knit group of athletes and coaches pulling for each other to succeed.
“He’s helped some of my girls throughout the year,” Chapman said of Booth. “I don’t know that I’ve helped some of his guys, but I’ve tried to motivate them.”
“He does,” Booth said. “As soon as we won our game, immediately everybody was texting, the boys and the principal, trying to find out if the girls made it too.”
Stuart entered the 2013 fall season with veterans on both teams. Most of the Hornets played on last year’s state-qualifying team, while the Lady Hornets’ four seniors — Kayla Smith, Kylie Jernigen, Reecie Curlee and Cierra Chapman — all made State as freshman.
Both teams qualifying for State this year was the culmination of several seasons’ worth of experience. Now they need to take that next step to really challenge schools like Red Oak for state titles.
“You get another taste of it, and they competed better this time than they did the time before,” Booth said. “So they know they’re closing the gap a little bit on winning that first state tournament game.”
The district- and regional-champion Lady Hornets finished their season 31-10. The district-champion Hornets finished 22-11.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.