READY TO GO: Lady Tigers open fastpitch season Monday at home against Sand Springs

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Aug. 6—Tahlequah loses four valuable seniors from a year ago but will have plenty of experience returning in 2022.

The Lady Tigers, who open their season Monday, Aug. 8 against Sand Springs in Tahlequah, have seven players returning who appeared in at least 29 games.

They will be led by their two seniors — third baseman/pitcher Jayley Ray and pitcher/outfielder Mikah Vann — but also return junior infielders Charlea Cochran and Paisley Qualls, junior infielder/catcher Jadyn Buttery, junior outfielder/catcher Jersey Retzloff and sophomore infielder/catcher Ameila Miller.

Ray and Cochran played in 36 games last year, Buttery appeared in 34 games, Vann played in 33, Retzloff played in 31, and Miller appeared in 29. Qualls was a starter but played in just two games after sustaining a knee injury.

Tahlequah will once again have high expectations under head coach Chris Ray. The Lady Tigers have advanced to five consecutive Class 5A State Tournaments, the last four under Ray, who guided THS to a 27-10 overall record and a District 5A-4 championship in 2021.

"I'm really optimistic," Chris Ray said. "I think we have a chance to be very competitive, I feel like we can go compete against anybody...I wouldn't be afraid to line them up and go compete with anyone we play."

Ray feels Durant, Glenpool and Shawnee, along with his team, will the frontrunners in 5A-4 this season.

"Durant's going to be competitive again, Glenpool is better...they've got their entire team back and I heard they've picked up three really athletic freshmen, and I would expect Shawnee to be right there with their flamethrower [Anneca Anderson] that's going to Tulsa," Ray said. "I think it will be us and those three as the top contenders."

Ray batted .340 with 10 doubles and 24 RBIs in 2021, but it's her glove at the hot corner where she adds the most value. The Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College commit committed just one error in 51 chances.

Vann's top value is in the pitcher's circle. Vann, who has offers from Eastern Oklahoma State College and Carl Albert, posted a 1.71 earned run average across 30 appearances, including 28 starts, in the pitcher's circle. Vann recorded 179 strikeouts and allowed 156 hits in 172 innings of work. She also hit .439, drove in 24 runs and posted a .526 on-base percentage.

Cochran, will be the glue in the middle of the infield where she can play either second base or shortstop. She hit .392 last season with a team-high 16 walks and was second on the team with 13 doubles. She knocked in 17 runs and had a .504 on-base percentage.

Buttery, who will play some at catcher and shortstop, batted .427 with a team-best 15 doubles and was second in RBIs with 29.

Miller, a first baseman and catcher, hit .387 with 21 RBIs, and Retzloff, an outfielder and catcher, batted .302 with 14 runs driven in.

Others who have experience from 2021 include outfielders Loren Walker, Jordan Bread and Tara Dye, and catcher Maddy Parish, who has been getting work at second base.

Newcomers in 2022 include junior first baseman Kori Rainwater, who played volleyball the past two seasons, and freshmen Alayna Stopp, Ellie Murphy, Cadence Kirk, Riley Dotson, Syda Alley and Allie Spradlin.