SPORTS

Lady Huskies win district championship

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital
Lady Huskies win district championship

With their late-season emergence, the Pawhuska Lady Huskies high school softball team could rightfully be called “The Possums.”

The PHS girls lost 10 in a row to start the season and were hindered by a schedule that included only six home contests. But last Thursday, the Lady Huskies played up to their capabilities in winning a Class 3A District 31 championship with two straight road victories over the Kellyville Lady Ponies.

Kellyville is the first team that the Lady Huskies have defeated twice. The current three-game win streak represents the first time the PHS girls have won consecutive games all season.

Pawhuska will now advance to a 3A Regional Tournament in Chandler that begins Thursday. In addition to the host Lady Lions, the other teams in the double-elimination tournament are the Newkirk Lady Tigers and the Kansas Lady Comets. The Lady Huskies are to meet Chandler in the Regional opener at noon. A loss would move them to a 6 p.m. contest against the other first-round winner, while a loss puts them in a 4 p.m. elimination game.

In the latest Class 3A poll released by the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association, Chandler (with a 30-5 season record) is ranked No. 7 and Kansas (23-7) holds the No. 10 spot. Pawhuska (6-25) and Newkirk (17-16) are unranked. The Lady Huskies and Lady Tigers split in earlier meetings this year, with Newkirk winning the season opener on August 11, 12-5, but the Lady Huskies taking a September 8 rematch, 10-5.

In last week’s District championship, the Lady Huskies supported back-to-back pitching gems by Breanna RedEagle with stingy defense and timely hitting to sweep two straight over the host Kellyville Lady Ponies.

Pawhuska made an impressive stand at the Ponies’ home corral, collecting 11 hits in each contest and lassoing victories by scores of 3-1 and 8-1. The twin triumphs earned Pawhuska its first district softball title since 2011 and improved the Lady Huskies’ season record to 9-27.

“A majority of our losses have been by three runs or less — we just always seemed to have one bad inning that would cost us,” Olivia Chronister, the third-year head coach of the Lady Huskies, said following the district wins. “Today, everybody did what they’re supposed to do and we were able to finish off the wins.”

Every PHS starter hit their way on base in the series, with five of them notching multi-hit games. Freshman catcher Star Sweeden had three hits in the opener and two in the finale, while junior Sarah Phillippi scored three times during her three-hit second outing.

All three of the Lady Huskies’ game-one runs were knocked in by freshman Ashley Henley. “Smashley” ripped a two-run double off the left-field wall in the second inning. In the sixth, she delivered an RBI single that made the score 3-1. Leadoff batter Keylee Kirk drove in two runs and scored once with a pair of hits in game two. Sarah Phillippi continued her torrid hitting by going 3-for-4 and scoring three times in the finale.

RedEagle was tough as nails as she pitched all 14 innings of the PHS sweep. The saavy junior right-hander recorded four-hitters in both of contests. She gave up only one earned run all day while striking out 11 batters, walking five and hitting one with a pitch.

Nursing a two-run lead in the opener, the Lady Huskie hurler got three Kellyville outs on three pitches in the sixth inning. RedEagle needed 26 deliveries in the final frame, however. The Ponies loaded the bases before her third strikeout of the inning nailed down the PHS victory. For the clincher, a pinch-hitter for Kellyville took a called strike on a 2-2 count.

Pawhuska’s lone senior starter, second baseman Tanaya Thomas, spearheaded an outstanding defensive effort by the Lady Huskies. Thomas also picked up three hits and scored twice in the sweep.

The solid PHS “D” deprived the host team of numerous scoring opportunities. Early in the first game, Thomas prevented a pair of overthrows with alert back-up plays. She snuffed a Kellyville threat in game two by chasing down a dying-swan popup in shallow right field and turning it into a double play.

Further highlights from the Lady Huskie fielders included exceptional grabs by first baseman Henley on a line drive down the first-base line in game one and catcher Sweeden’s plucking a foul pop off the screen in the third inning of the second game.

The Lady Huskies gave a preview to their impending district performance earlier in the week when they hammered out a 10-2 home victory Tuesday over the Sperry Lady Pirates, a team with 15-10 mark.

Two-run doubles by Kirk and Sweeden highlighted a fifth-inning explosion that carried Pawhuska in its regular-season finale. The five-run fifth also included an RBI single by Thomas, who later was honored — along with four-year Lady Huskie teammate Sadie Sellers — during Senior Night ceremonies.

Thomas entered the district series with a fourth-best team average (.327). Kirk went a perfect 2-2 at the plate against Sperry and RedEagle continued to shine in the circle, allowing two earned runs, four hits and one walk while striking out five over the six-inning contest. The Lady Huskies took a one-run lead in the bottom of the first inning on a two-out single by Phillippi.

Injuries sidelined two PHS players for the district series — junior slugger Brittney Summers and sophomore Mary Jo Upchurch, who started at second base for a majority of the season.