By BEN JOHNSON
Power hitters have littered Tahlequah lineups ever since Matt Cloud took over three seasons ago. It was Erica Sampson and Ashley Boswell two years ago, while Jenna Reed, Whittney Whittmore and Kaitlenn Rippetoe took over last season.
This season, Tahlequah’s slowpitch softball team plans on altering its approach at the plate after losing five players who accounted for 252 runs batted in during the 2012 campaign.
“We won’t be as powerful at the plate,” said Cloud, Tahlequah’s coach who is set to embark on his third season at the helm. “We will have a lot of singles and a few doubles and be really smart on the bases.”
What the Lady Tigers lack in offensive firepower, they’ll make up for in superb defense. Last season, Tahlequah sported a .967 fielding percentage, but Cloud said this year’s team should surpass that mark.
“This team is better defensively than we have had since I have been here,” Cloud said.
Anchoring Tahlequah’s defensive efforts will be shortstop Randee O’Donnell and second baseman Kirsten Chase. The two will also be key cogs in the Lady Tigers’ batting order.
“We need her to drive in every run she can for us to be successful,” Cloud said of Chase before assessing O’Donnell’s skill set.
“She makes every play at shortstop, and she has the ability to drive in runs and will be counted on to do so.”
After missing Tahlequah’s first four games — all victories — this season, O’Donnell will return to the Lady Tigers’ lineup against Poteau today. The Oklahoma State commit was sidelined after suffering a lower-leg injury toward the end of Tahlequah’s state-tournament run in girls basketball.
“She’s a competitor, and it tears her up to have to watch,” Cloud said of O’Donnell, who hit. 495 with 27 runs batted in last spring. “With her back at shortstop, it allows us to play people in their true positions and makes us better as a whole.”
Also carrying a sizable chuck of responsibility for Tahlequah will be freshman pitcher Erin Dillard, who replaces Jessica Blalock.
“Erin has done a fantastic job thus far for us,” Cloud said. “As a freshman, I was worried she might get intimidated of some of the better teams, but she has limited her walks, which has allowed our defense to make plays.”
As for Cloud’s outlook on the season, he said the bar is set high for his club — and himself.
“Expectations are high for this team. Tahlequah has been to the state tourney 21 years in a row in slowpitch, so that puts some added pressure on us, but I think we are capable of getting back there,” Cloud said. “This group is pretty close and they get along, which will help carry us at times this year.
“I always feel more pressure in slowpitch than fastpitch, because people expect us to be there. I don’t think you can ever take getting to state for granted.”
More on the Lady Tigers
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