After the season the Duke High School Lady Tigers softball team had, a trip to the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Assocation’s Class B State Championship Fastpitch tournament was more of a pipe dream than it was a reality.
It was only expected for a team that had battled so much adversity throughout the season, but the Lady Tigers wanted a state championship berth quite possibly more than any other team. If successful, the 2017 Lady Tigers fastpitch team would be the only Duke fastpitch team to make it to the state tournament. It would be the perfect victory for a season marred by injuries.
They came farther than expected, winning 21 of their 30 games despite injuries that kept piling up. They faced game cancellations due to a thinning roster of healthy players but they kept battling.
“Honestly — as a coach — this has been one of the most challenging seasons I have ever had,” Coach Miles Smith said.. We’ve dealt with a lot of injuries and illnesses over the course of the season. For most of the season, we only had nine healthy players. There was a part of the season where we even had to cancel games because I only had seven healthy girls.”
Heading into the regional tournament, the Lady Tigers were riding a two-game losing streak with Mangum besting Duke 20-6 in a game that was never close and Binger-Oney starting and staying hot en route to an 11-2 win.
But finally, things were starting to look up for the team.
“It has just been one of those crazy years where it seemed like nothing was going right for us.,” Smith said. “Late in the year, we kinda got healthy and we got everyone back and the girls fought through so much adversity and stuff all year long.”
Instead of folding and blaming injuries, the Lady Tigers quickly turned things around. They dispatched Leedey, 6-3, in the first round of the regional tournament before falling to Vici, 5-4, thanks to a late rally.
Facing elimination with another loss, the Lady Tigers played their best softball of the tournament, pulling out a 14-3 win over Granite with career games from Abby Jones (2-for-4) who scored twice and batted in another three runs and Chloe Koontz (2-for-4) who scored four times and batted in one run.
The win put the Lady Tigers in a rematch against Vici and, this time, Duke battled to a 6-5 win in extra innings.
In the final game of the tournament, the Lady Tigers again played Vici and, again, found a way to win as their bats came alive with almost every girl on the team recording one hit in an 8-4 regional tournament championship win.
“Our expectation was always to be in the regional tournament and we knew that if we had everyone healthy and we played well, we were good enough to be in the state tournament,” Smith said. “It was a matter of when or if that was ever going to be able to happen for us. Fortunately, the good Lord let it happen at the right time. We had some kids released from injuries who hadn’t had a chance to play much. It was just one of those timing things where we were able to get healthy and everything just clicked for us. It is kinda what we expected to happen at the beginning of the season before all of the injuries and stuff started happening.”
Now — for the first time — the Duke Lady Tigers softball team is headed to the Class B state tournament where they will battle Shattuck in the first round at 4 p.m. Thursday and they have a coach and town standing with them on the journey.
“Honestly, this team is very resilient,” Smith said. “They battle through everything, they never give up, and they never quit. No matter what the odds are against them, they feel like they’ve always got a chance and they fight like crazy in every situation. They work their tails off all year long and they’ve done that since I got here a year ago.”
“To tell you the truth — from where they’ve come from to where they’re at now — I’m so proud of what they’ve done. We don’t lose any seniors. We have everyone coming back next year so the future looks really good,” he added. “I expect us to come play pretty good this week at the state tournament. I know they’re really excited It’s the first time that Duke softball has ever been in the state tournament and that’s really cool for them to be the first team to do that.”
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.