By BEN JOHNSON
OKLAHOMA CITY — Offense came easy for Tahlequah for most of its 39 games this season. It disappeared in Game No. 40.
The Class 6A No. 2 Lady Tigers mustered only six hits and were ousted in the first round of the state tournament on Wednesday, falling to 6A No. 8 Broken Arrow, 5-3, at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
“I don’t know if we would have done anything differently,” Tahlequah coach Matt Cloud said. “We prepared like we prepared for every game this year. I think the stigma of the state tournament got us again.”
For the third straight season, Tahlequah’s third loss spelled the end of its season. The Lady Tigers also fell to 0-3 in their last three slowpitch state tournaments.
“I don’t know what else to say as far as that,” said Cloud, whose team finished 37-3 this year.
However, unlike the last two seasons, Tahlequah didn’t lose a high-scoring affair in its final game of the season. No, this one was all about defense and not making mistakes.
Advantage, Broken Arrow.
Tahlequah only finished with two errors, but the first was costly in the second inning.
After trading zeros for the first inning and a half, Broken Arrow capitalized on a walk and a Kirsten Chase error to start the home half of the second inning. Blayke McKissic followed with a single to right-center field to load the bases. That prompted RBI singles by Kinzy Mathis and Caitlin Paolini to give Broken Arrow a two-run cushion. Ashley Chesser would cap the three-run inning with a fielder’s choice ground out to second base.
“We spot them three in the (second inning),” Cloud said, “and I think that was the turning point of the game.”
Broken Arrow piled on in the third, scoring two more runs on RBI singles by Amanda Ward and McKissic to claim a 5-0 lead.
That’s when Tahlequah’s offense sprung to life — but only briefly.
Britney Johnson led off the fourth inning with a walk, and Lindsay Wade followed with a single. Then, after both Johnson and Wade both moved up a base on Randee O’Donnell’s fly out, Chase cashed in with a two-run single to left field.
“They scored two of theirs because we walked one and gave up a hit to start the inning,” Broken Arrow coach Randall King. “That’s something you can’t do in this game: make mistakes. You have to limit people’s opportunities.”
From that point on, scoring chances were few and far between for both clubs.
Broken Arrow tallied one hit in the final three frames. Tahlequah had three hits the rest of the way, but did have two scoring opportunities.
The first came during a two-out rally in the fifth. Lainey Wallace and Bub Peters singled before Morgan Tarrance grounded out to second base.
“She’s pinch hit all year long and has come up with some good pinch hits,” Cloud said of Tarrance. “She just swung at a bad pitch, and that’s human error. Put her out there next time, and she’d likely hit a line drive and score a run.”
Tahlequah was able to plate a run in the seventh inning, but its rally was cut short when Whitney Wright — who brought home Kortney Dry on a double to left field — opted to try and stretch a double into a triple and was cut down at third base.
“I was trying to get something started,” Cloud said of his decision to have Wright try for third base. “I have a million critics always judging what I do, and you know, I would have done it again. Ten times out of 10, I would have sent her to third. That’s just part of it.”
With Tahlequah’s rally on life-support, Marisa Girdner grounded out to short to end the game.
“I’m proud of the way we came back and competed,” Cloud said. “We just didn’t get it done.”