By BEN JOHNSON
Over the last couple of years, Tahlequah has been watching Grove have all the fun. The district titles, the head-to-head matchups, even a state championship — Grove laid claim to all of that.
On Thursday at Lady Tiger Field, Tahlequah flipped the script and had some fun of its own.
Tahlequah posted a pair of three-run innings and limited Grove to three hits to record a 6-3 victory in District 5A-3 play.
“It’s a big morale booster,” said Tahlequah third baseman Whitney Wright, who went two-for-four with a run scored and two runs batted in.
“Good way to start off the season — with a win.”
Tahlequah’s triumph snapped a five-game losing streak to Grove, which dated back to 2010. The Lady Red had swept both head-to-head matchups in league play during the 2011 and 2012 campaigns.
And early on, it appeared that the graduation of catcher Ashleigh Tramel and third baseman Taylor Dodson wasn’t going to hurt Grove — last year’s Class 5A state champion — at all. The Lady Red (0-1, 0-1 5A-3) started the game with a single by Megan Porter and a run-scoring triple down the left-field line by Kaitlyn Smith. However, Smith was tagged out at home plate on Taylor Rupe’s sacrifice attempt, limiting Grove to just one run in the opening frame.
“Jumping out 2-0 is a lot different than 1-0,” Grove coach Jeremy Collins said. “Not that (Tahlequah) can’t bounce back from that, but I think it puts a little more pressure on them.”
Tahlequah (1-0, 1-0) eliminated the early deficit almost immediately, posting three runs of its own in the home half of the first inning. Kortney Dry’s two-out, two-run triple to right field plated Wright and Kirsten Chase, and Lainey Wallace followed by lacing a single to left to score Dry.
“I think we got tight in the first inning when they scored,” Tahlequah coach Matt Cloud said. “I knew we could score, it was just a matter of how much we were going to score.”
Grove narrowed the gap in the third inning when Abby Walker scored on an error. But that’s as close as the Lady Red would get.
Tahlequah responded with a three-run frame in the fourth, highlighted by Wright’s two-run single through the left side of the infield.
“I was just focusing on getting a base hit; I wasn’t trying to do too much,” said Wright, whose team tallied six hits against Grove pitcher Emilee Iverson. “I knew if I kept thinking about it, I wouldn’t hit it. So I was just kind of focused on getting a base hit, and it made it through.”
Picking up the pitching victory on a near-perfect afternoon was Lindsay Wade. The sophomore hurler went five innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on two hits and two walks. She also recorded three strikeouts.
Morgan Tarrance came on in relief of Wade in the sixth inning and gave up one run on one hit.
“They did good,” Cloud said. “It was a big game, and I think them watching the Grove series the last couple of years — two years for Morgan and one year for Lindsay — maybe they were tight. But they threw a lot of strikes, and I think they’re going to complement each other well.”
Tahlequah softball notebook: Lady Tigers alter opening-day lineup
Tahlequah coach Matt Cloud had his season-opening lineup all set and ready to go. Then he had to revamp it a few minutes before the 2013 season got underway.
Marisa Girdner was originally penciled in as Tahlequah’s lead-off hitter in center field, but the senior outfielder was absent because of a funeral. Thus, Whitney Wright moved to the lead-off spot, while Lainey Wallace moved from right field to center field.
“I don’t know what else you can do about it,” Cloud said. “Seems like we always have something come up. (Girnder) was at a funeral; you can’t fault her for that.”
Wright, who was to hit in the No. 2 hole, certainly didn’t see the last-minute change coming.
“I didn’t see that coming,” she said, “but I’m confident enough in myself that when (Cloud) puts me that spot, I can produce for him.”
Walking with a limp
None of Tahlequah players appeared to be nursing injuries as the season started on Thursday. However, Cloud began the season with a walking boot on his left leg.
The fourth-year coach said he tore his Achilles tendon earlier in month.
Tahlequah shortstop Randee O’Donnell, an Oklahoma State commit, celebrated her birthday on Thursday. The No. 3 hole hitter, though, went zero-for-three, including a line drive right at the center fielder in the third inning.
Tahlequah will take part in its first tournament of the season on Friday and Saturday. The Lady Tigers will play Choctaw, Enid and Inola on the first day of the Broken Arrow tournament, which will be held at Arrowhead Park in Broken Arrow. On Saturday, Tahlequah will take on Owasso and Union.
Grove will host Collinsville in a District 5A-3 contest on Friday.