After claiming their third district baseball title in four years with a two-game sweep of the Adair Warriors, the Pawhuska Huskies will begin play Thursday in a Class 3A Regional Tournament at Verdigris High School.
The Huskies, who have won 15 of their last 18 machups, are to go against the Salina Wildcats at 1 p.m. Salina is 17-14 on the year and are ranked No. 18 in the Class 3A poll posted by the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association.
Also in the Regional is Tahlequah Sequoyah (9-10) and host Verdigris, the defending 3A state champion, is ranked No. 1. The Cardinals (24-6) will open the tourney with an 11 a.m. contest against the Indians, who won their district by taking two out of three from Keys (Parkhill).
Winner of the opening game is to meet the Pawhuska-Salina victor at 3 p.m. and a 5 p.m. losers-bracket game will conclude the Thursday slate. On Friday, games are set for 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. The double-elimination tourney is slated to continue through Saturday, if necessary.
Last Thursday, Pawhuska improved its season record to 17-7 with the back-to-back home triumphs over Adair. The Huskies, who are unranked (which casts some doubt on the OSSAA system), earned the District 3A-23 championship after prevailing by scores of 10-1 and 5-3 in the best-of-three-game series. PHS also avenged for district losses to the Warriors earlier this season in football and basketball.
"We had good pitching and played well defensively," said Brian Edwards, the head coach of the Huskies. "At the plate, we put the ball in play and were able to take advantage of some scoring opportunities."
PHS pitching ace Tyler Culver hurled a three-hitter in the series opener. The hard-throwing senior righthander gave up no earned runs and struck out seven, while walking one batter and hitting two others with pitches.
Culver was both efficient and economical on the mound as he required only 70 pitches to complete the seven-inning contest. He three first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 26 Adair batters and picked off the first Warrior he hit with a pitch. Offensively, the Pawhuska pitcher accounted for a pair of singles and a double — plus, he scored two runs.
The Huskies collected 11 hits in the first game, with leadoff batter Zalin Edwards setting the tone by rapping out three singles. Other PHS hits came from Caleb Bruce, Bryce Wilson, Connor McNeil, Taylor Priest and Hayden Javellas, who crossed the plate three times.
Pawhuska’s defense was nearly flawless, with fielding gems provided by sophomore Chandler Collins in right field, shortstop Priest and Oller at third base.
At the opposite infield corner, freshman first baseman Bruce performed with the smooth assurance of veteran as he calmly handled several tough defensive chances, including a textbook flip to pitcher Culver covering first.
"Caleb really stepped up and did a good job," Edwards said of Bruce. "He got on nearly every time and made all the plays in the field at a position he’s not used to."
Following two scoreless innings to start the game, Bruce knocked home Culver in the top of the third with a two-out single down the third base line. A well-directed single by Wilson moved Bruce around to third and he scored on a wild pitch to make it 2-0. (For the series, Bruce reached base on six of his eight at-bats and scored a run in each game.)
Adair put an unearned run on the board in the bottom of the third when the first Warrior batter reached base on an infield error and eventually came around to score on an RBI single by Alec Brand, a sophomore catcher who hit his way on five straight times for the visitors.
Javellas launched the Huskies’ three-run fifth with an infield single. The speedy junior then stole second, advanced to third on a wild pitch and came home via a passed ball. A walk to Edwards was followed by Culver’s line-drive double to left. McNeil capped the PHS scoring by blooping a single over the shortstop. Javellas scored again in the sixth to put PHS in front, 6-1. After drawing a leadoff walk and stealing second, he was knocked home by an Edwards. Priest, Edwards and Culver all had RBI singles during Pawhuska’s four-run seventh.
The Huskies managed to secure a victory in the second game despite being out-hit by the Warriors, 11 to 6. Senior righthander Oller started on the mound and went five frames, striking out four and walking none. Priest closed out the win with two innings of solid relief.
Triples by McNeil and Javellas helped the Huskies to a 2-1 advantage in the second inning after Adair struck for a run in the top of the first. The Warriors tied the game in the third on a solo home run by Hunter Rosebrough, who sliced one deep over the right-center field fence. After Brand followed with a single, shortstop Culver started a double play to nip an Adair rally in the bud. Rosebrough pitched well for the Warriors as the starting pitcher in the opening game before giving way in the sixth to lanky sophomore Tayler Conseen, who threw the final two innings of the first contest and all of the second.
PHS regained the lead by scoring three times in the fifth, sparked by an Edwards RBI double that drove home Javellas — who had opened the inning with a walk before stealing his way to third. Edwards and Bruce scored the final two runs for the Huskies, who were helped by couple mistakes in the field by the Warriors. Adair committed five errors in the double-header while Pawhuska made only one in each game.
"If we continue to play at this level, I think we can compete with anybody," Edwards said.