It was a tantamount to a day off. But all teams are required to win their way into the state tournament.
So Tahlequah did so with ease on Thursday.
Class 6A’s second-ranked club posted three run-rule victories over Fort Gibson and Stilwell (twice) to punch its ticket to the slowpitch state tournament for the 22nd straight time.
“We don’t play good when we know we’re better, and I mean that with all due respect,” Tahlequah coach Matt Cloud said. “It’s hard for us to get up sometimes, because we look past our opponents.”
Tahlequah (34-5) posted three easy victories over Fort Gibson (twice) and Stilwell during the regular season, and the regional tournament games at Lady Tiger Field were no different.
Tahlequah dispatched of Fort Gibson first with a 13-3 triumph in four innings. Tahlequah scored in every frame, including a six-run first inning to set a tone for its day. Caitlin Chuculate homered and drove in three runs, while Kortney Dry and Lainey Wallace also drove in three runs apiece.
Tahlequah then set its sights on Stilwell.
In the first of two meetings on the day, Tahlequah scored six runs in both the first and second innings to cut the game short. Tahlequah logged 12 hits, two of which were home runs by Bub Peters and Kirsten Chase. Tahlequah pitcher Erin Dillard also went two-for-two with three runs batted in.
In the second showdown between the two inter-county opponents, Tahlequah broke a scoreless tie with nine runs in the second inning. Morgan Tarrance punctuated the second frame with a two-run home run.
Tahlequah shortstop Randee O’Donnell brought the championship game to a close with a two-run double in the third inning.
“It was good to get (those games) out of the way,” Cloud said. “And I guess we’re working on Tuesday now.”
That’s when Tahlequah will go after its first state slowpitch title since 2006.
“We’ve played really over our heads the last couple of years, and then we get to the state tournament and get our brains beat in,” said Cloud, whose club 12-5 to Union in the first round in 2012 and 5-3 to Broken Arrow in the quarterfinals last season.
“But I think we’ve played a tougher schedule this year.”
Littered throughout Tahlequah’s schedule are victories over 6A No. 3 Muskogee (twice), Class A’s top-ranked team Red Oak, 6A No. 3 Broken Arrow and 6A No. 4 Moore. Top-ranked teams in 5A (Bethel) and 3A (Tushka) have been knocked off by Tahlequah, too.
“We played 21 games against top-six teams,” Cloud said, “and that was by design. That was to make us better for this Tuesday.”
One aspect is guaranteed to be different for Tahlequah at the state tournament: the venue. The season’s final event will be held at the Ballfields at Firelake in Shawnee.
“I’m hoping for the wind blowing in,” Cloud said. “I think we’ve better when it’s like that. Really, we’re just looking to get there and come up with a different result.”