By BEN JOHNSON
A district crown eluded Tahlequah's softball team in each of the past two seasons. The Lady Tigers had to sit and watch as Grove celebrated its league dominance in District 5A-3.
Well, Grove isn't going to stand in Tahlequah's way this season. The Lady Red plummeted to the bottom of the district and are working out the kinks now that nearly every player from last season's state championship club is gone.
No, Grove won't be Tahlequah's hurdle this year in 5A-3. Claremore will be.
Tahlequah and Claremore are separated by two games in the district standings, and the first of two games between the two clubs will be tonight at Lady Tiger Field at 5 p.m.
"We have a big game against Claremore," Tahlequah coach Matt Cloud said. "From here on out, I don't think there is a pushover game that we have left."
Entering the week, Tahlequah was at 7-0 in 5A-3 play, and Claremore was at 6-1. However, two wins for Tahlequah — 3-0 over Coweta and 8-6 against Grove — and a win (4-3 against Collinsville) and a loss (3-2 vs. Skiatook) for Claremore has the Lady Zebras staring at a full two-game deficit in the district standings.
Following it's matchup with Claremore, Tahlequah will have two district games at home (Collinsville and Pryor) and two league games on the road (Clarmore and Coweta).
Through 27 games, Tahlequah is sporting a 26-1 mark. And with postseason play a couple of weeks away, Cloud said his club can't afford any letdowns now.
"I figured we would stumble a little bit earlier in the year, but we haven't stumbled yet," Cloud said. "Now, we don't have enough time to stumble, because it's mainly district play."
Speaking of district play, Class 3A No. 1 Sequoyah will bypass that portion of the 3A playoffs. The Lady Indians received a free pass in the first round of the playoffs and will await a regional-tournament assignment on Oct. 2.
Until then, Sequoyah will put its No. 1 ranking on the line today and Saturday during the Fall Classic tournament at Sequoyah's auxiliary softball fields just west of the high school campus.
"We're wanting to find a game here and there," said Sequoyah coach Jeff Turtle, whose team will play five games in his team's tournament before taking on 4A No. 4 Fort Gibson and Class B No. 1 Red Oak in the coming weeks.
"We wanted to play someone that would put a little pressure on (the girls)."
Sequoyah is closing in on postseason that could very well conclude in Oklahoma City again this season. In 2012, the Lady Indians reached the 3A state championship game and lost to Little Axe in dramatic fashion.
Turtle says Sequoyah's team this season has the capability of making it back to that point again this year.
"We think so," he said. "Pitching-wise, we've been pretty good, and we swing the bats decent. We've got a little speed to put pressure on teams, so we think we (have what it takes)."