By BEN JOHNSON
Raise your hand if you think you’ve got a good grasp on who owns Class 5A softball this year.
If you thrust your arm skyward, kudos to you. I myself have yet to piece together the puzzle that is 5A.
The 5A state tournament begins Thursday in Oklahoma City with some of the usual suspects of the last couple of years: Carl Albert, Tahlequah, Grove and Deer Creek. Then, you have some new blood from the west side of the state: Chickasha and Duncan. And, not to be forgotten, are the head-scratchers: Pryor and Collinsville.
“It’s the teams that put in the work all year long,” Tahlequah coach Matt Cloud said. “We’re getting repaid for it.”
To clarify, Collinsville making the state tournament field isn’t a total surprise. After all, the Lady Cardinals finished second in District 5A-4 and owned a 22-12 record prior to postseason play.
Pryor, though, didn’t see that coming at all. The Lady Tigers, in blue and gold, were 10-20 before the playoffs started and looked to be easy victims at McAlester’s regional tournament. But, to Matt Davis’ credit, he rallied his club and Pryor beat McAlester and Durant (twice) to win a regional crown.
And who’s to say Pryor couldn’t win the whole thing with momentum on its side heading into this week.
“The funny thing about this tournament is you could of had a so-so year, but if you get hot Thursday, you could win it all,” Cloud said. “Or, you could of had a great year, and a bad Thursday could mean you’re done. It’s whoever is hot on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”
And like any other state tournament in any other sport, the unknown plays a huge role for every coaching staff. Schools often stick to their east-side or west-side sandboxes during the regular season, until they’re all forced to play together and eat at the same lunch table in the final three days of the year.
Tahlequah, for instance, only played a few schools west of Tulsa during the regular season: Meeker, Cushing and Shawnee.
“When getting information on all the teams, you kind of get mixed signals,” Cloud said. “...As a coach, that’s hard because you don’t really know what to expect.”
But first things first for Tahlequah. Prepare for Chickasha and worry about the rest later.
“Their pitcher is pretty good and will move the ball around,” Cloud said of the scouting report he collected on Chickasha’s pitcher Madison Snyder. “Velocity-wise, we’ve seen some harder throwers.
“Offensively, they have a lot of slappers.”
As for Chickasha’s scouting report on Tahlequah, coach Dennis Furr was brimming with confidence in a recent report by the Chickasha Express-Star.
“They’re a good team,” Furr said of Tahlequah. “I think we match up with them where we can cause some problems.”
Tahlequah’s focus is simple. “We’re just going to prepare and play good for 21 innings,” Cloud said. “That’s our goal.”
As for what we should expect at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, that’s anyone’s guess.
At least we know this going in: expect the unexpected.