Play ball! Around the diamond previewing the 2022 fastpitch season

·3 min read

Aug. 5—Fastpitch season opens on Monday for most area teams.

Some hot takes heading into the campaign:

Districts

The most notable changes: Hilldale, Fort Gibson and Wagoner are all in one district this season. Fort Gibson escapes the home-and-home with Broken Bow. That assignment goes to Checotah, apart from the rest of the area.

Haskell and Oktaha, arguably the two best state contenders, are separated by class. Haskell in 3A, Oktaha in 2A.

The lineup:

—6A-4: Muskogee, Broken Arrow, Choctaw, Del City, Norman North, Owasso, Ponca City, Union

—4A-6: Hilldale, Fort Gibson, Wagoner, Verdigris, Locust Grove, Stilwell, Westville

—4A-8: Checotah, Broken Bow, Idabel, Poteau, Muldrow, Stigler, Sallisaw

—3A-7: Eufaula, Haskell, Beggs, Henryetta, Holdenville, Morris, Okmulgee

—2A-6: Oktaha, Sallisaw Central, Chouteau, Colcord, Howe, Hulbert, Panama, Pocola

—2A-7: Gore, Porter, Warner, Dale, Mounds, Preston, Rejoice Christian, Stroud

—No district assignments (A/B): Webbers Falls, Porum, Midway, Braggs.

Haymakers unleashed

Lynzi Kelley was runner-up for All-Phoenix MVP honors in fastpitch in 2021, hitting .485 with nine home runs and 50 RBIs, then added a slowpitch MVP title in the spring, hitting .720. She leads a promising Haskell team that should make a run at a state tournament bid. Pitcher RayLin Morgan (2.00 ERA, 30-4 with 230 strikeouts in 16 innings) was All-Phoenix at that spot. Riley Wesmoreland hit .443 as a freshman outfielder and was Newcomer of the Year.

All these players

Oktaha coach Kia Holmes has a crowd on her hands. The Lady Tigers return every starter from a 19-8 squad that just missed state. Holmes has also got nine freshmen and a sophomore outside of that group who are all capable of contributing.

Catcher Brynn Surmont (.354) who threw out seven baserunners and had four pickoffs, and outfielder Ryleigh Bacon (.398) are returning All-Phoenix selections. Shortstop Ava Scott was Newcomer of the Year two years ago. Hannah Focht, playing left field, is coming off a .522 year in slowpitch, making All-Phoenix there.

One of the incoming freshmen is Mileigh Needham, a pitcher/third baseman who was a member of the Oklahoma team that won the Little League Softball World Series in 2021.

All these players — hurt

That's Joe Obregon's view at Fort Gibson.

Jolee Taylor (shoulder surgery) and Kyla Scott (knee surgery) are lost for the year. Then there's Payton Russell, a returning starter and Mattyson Laney, who saw limited action last year but is expected to see an expanded role after limited action last year, are beginning the year battling shoulder and knee issues, respectively. It'll be a bumpy start, but hope among six returning starters off what was a young squad in 2021, including senior centerfielder Graci Williams and pitcher Kaiah Austin, a sophomore who was Newcomer of the Year in slowpitch.

Settlng in

Muskogee coach Mark Dicus' rebuilding project at Muskogee enters year two with junior Jaliyah Simmons (.415), junior first baseman Kambri Johnson (.485) and senior centerfielder Feather Johnson (.381) back. Simmons had a 4.04 ERA. MVP Karsyn York graduated, taking a .612 average and leaving the starting catcher spot to fill. Jaye Barnoski, Shay Grissom and Peyton Jackson saw plenty of action as freshmen. The Lady Roughers were 20-18 after going 5-23 in 2020.

Regrouping

Hilldale missed the state tournament for the first time in 10 seasons a year ago. Starting with senior pitcher Brooklyn Ellis (0.95 ERA, 12-6 with 183 strikeouts in 146 innings pitched and a .298 plate average) and senior first baseman Lexi Cramp, the Lady Hornets will attempt the road back to Oklahoma City. Kensley Allen, Bailey McClain and Rylin Clark also are returning starters.

Watch for these:

—Avery Williams, Eufaula: Pitcher had 108 strikeouts in 114 innings pitched with a 2.09 ERA last season.

—Jessie Roachell, Checotah: Senior shortstop is a multi-year starter coming off a big year in slowpitch offensively. The Ladycats won district in slowpitch but were 2-25 in fastpitch.

Leading off

Among Monday's openers is Oktaha at Haskell. The two teams will meet again at regular season's end.