Oct. 14—Despite the big stage and high stakes awaiting Verdigris softball in Oklahoma City, coach Brian Keith's approach hasn't changed.
After all, the Lady Cardinals' first-round matchup against Plainview in the Class 4A state tournament at 4 p.m. Thursday at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex is just another softball game.
Even as he trains the girls to disregard the pageantry of the event and to focus on the task at hand, he knows one thing for certain — they must play above average if they want to avoid suffering their fifth loss of the season in the first round.
"We've done what we normally do," Keith said. "We have an approach to what we do, and we have to go up there and execute. We're at a point and time in the year where you better be good every game; you can't just be average. If you're average, you're going to be sent home. We know we gotta play well. We've got the best eight teams in Class 4A, which is a tough classification. Every game we play is going to be tough, so we just gotta execute and be very good."
Keith doesn't have much information on the Lady Indians, but their resume speaks for itself. Plainview (26-9) finished second in District 4A-3 behind fellow state qualifier Lone Grove, and it owns a victory over defending state champion Tuttle.
In the regional tournament, the Lady Indians won four-consecutive games after losing the opener to Seminole. Three of those came last Friday with little rest between each contest.
Riley Grant, the team's ace pitcher, was a game-changing presence during the rally through the loser's bracket.
"I heard they've got a pretty good pitcher in the circle," Keith said. "She's about 6-2, 180, and she's committed to the University of Tulsa. Her speed is about 60-62, and she's got a good five-pitch mix. They say she's one of the best around in the West."
She backed up those claims last week, starting all three Friday games and striking out 23 batters on 254 pitches through 19 innings.
Thursday's game could turn into a pitcher's duel, for Verdigris (33-4) has its own star manning the circle.
Evie Lemery is only a freshman, but her right arm has been the driving force behind the Lady Cardinals' return to the state tournament. She has proven her reliability time and time again this season, but the circumstances are different this time.
The state tournament can have an unnerving effect on even the most seasoned athletes, but Keith said he believes Lemery is ready for the challenge.
"I told her it's just like another softball game, and that's what she's been doing all her life," Keith said. "Rubber to home plate is still 43 feet, and I told her the type of game she's going to be playing in is pretty big, but she's just gotta be her and keep that resolve she's had all year long and do her best and execute."
Here is a look at the full Class 4A bracket:
Thursday's Games (Field 4)
At USA Hall of Fame Stadium Complex
Harrah vs. Tecumseh, 11 a.m.
Tuttle vs. Bristow, 1:30 p.m.
Verdigris vs. Plainview, 4 p.m.
Lone Grove vs. Stigler, 6:30 p.m.
Friday's Games (Field 4)
Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 11 a.m.
Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 1:30 p.m.
Saturday's Game (OG&E Energy Field)