It’s now the time for Betty Danner, Bailey Jones, Savannah Wiggins and Josie Moffitt.
The group of Tahlequah fastpitch softball seniors have grown and developed under head coach Chris Ray over the past two years.
They each had big roles in the Lady Tigers’ 22-18 overall record and third consecutive Class 5A State Tournament a year ago.
They don’t know any different than to reach the state tournament, and now it’s their turn to become leaders of the program.
“They’ve been in the program a long time and they’re starting their third year with me,” Ray said. “They know the routine, they know the process, and they know what’s expected of them day in and day out. They’ve been good role models the first three or four days with the young kids coming in, having kids check their practice plan when they get to the field, remind kids that they need to get to practice early to start on time...none of them are really vocal, they lead more by example. They let their actions speak more so than their words, and they do a good job of it.”
Danner, tabbed the District 5A-4 Offensive Player of the Year as a junior, will carry the big bat in the lineup, a lot like lone 2019 senior McKenna Wofford did.
“I feel a lot more confident in everything now,” Danner said. “I’ve become more knowledgeable at second base, and offensively I feel like I’m seeing pitches better and more confident about where I should go with where the pitch is placed.”
Danner, who overcame an early-season injury where she missed eight games, hit .448 with five home runs and drove in 42 runs last year. She finished with nine doubles, a pair of triples and had an on-base percentage of .543. Many of her final numbers were right in line with those of Wofford’s, who was named the 5A-4 Player of the Year and became a Oklahoma High School Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association All-State selection.
“I learned a lot from [McKenna] with what she did last year,” Danner said. “It will be difficult to replace her, but I feel like we’ve got a lot of good talent and a really good group overall.”
Jones did a large bulk of Tahlequah’s pitching last season. In 154 innings, she posted a 3.41 earned run average, struck out 73 and issued 20 walks. Jones had a 15-10 won-loss record and appeared in 31 games, 27 of those starts.
“Being a senior means stepping up to the plate and being a leader,” Jones said. “We need to show these young ones how to play this sport and how to act around other people.”
Jones has added another weapon to her arsenal.
“I’ve added more velocity and a riseball,” she said. “It’s going to be a new game changer this year. Having the extra pitch gives you more leverage, throwing them off balance. If you mix up your pitches it’s going to get them off balance and make them go up with the pitch instead of staying down with contact.”
Wiggins made a mammoth jump in her first year as a regular in the starting lineup. She hit .367 and was second on the team with 18 walks. Wiggins had an on-base percentage of .477, finished with 21 RBIs and had three triples and one home run.
Her biggest assets are her versatility and speed. She can play in the outfield, infield or at the catcher position.
“I’ve come a long way from my freshman year to last year,” Wiggins said. “When Coach Ray told me I was going to start last year, I felt like it was my time to show them what I’m capable of. I just want to be a good role model and show them that if I can step up, they can step up as well. I feel like I’ve gained a lot more knowledge about the game now.”
Moffitt appeared in 19 games last year, filled in at second base following Danner’s injury, and had an on-base percentage of .389. She had a pair of doubles, knocked in four runs, scored 10 runs and walked eight times.
“I just do whatever I can do to help the team,” Moffitt said. “I can run the bases, hit when I’m needed and play where they need me. We have really good players this year and we work well together.”
The four seniors have had the same two primary goals each year under Ray.
“They’ve been in the state tournament now three years in a row,” Ray said. “They know what our expectations are. We’ve already talked about what goal No. 1 is and that’s to make sure you finish first or second in the district so you get to host a home regional, and goal No. 2 is to get to the state tournament, and once you get to the state tournament anything can happen. They know this. There’s no secret to success, it’s just show up, put your time in every day and try to get better in practice every day, and for the most part, they do that and lead by example.”
The Lady Tigers will open their season on Aug. 10 when they host Sand Springs.