The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 28, 2013

Chisholm to get taste of big time at state

By Bruce Campbell, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Chisholm’s slow-pitch softball team is going big time.

The Lady Longhorns (28-9) will be playing No. 2-ranked Washington at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday in the first round of the 4A state tournament on the main field at Oklahoma City’s Hall of Fame Stadium, the home of the Women’s College World Series and numerous international championships.

Almost the equivalent of a high school baseball player playing at Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park.

“I’m excited for them,’’ said Chisholm coach Jimmy Johnson. “To pull in that parking lot ... knowing you’re one of the best teams in the state ... and then getting to play in that kind of atmosphere ... I hope it will be a treat for the kids.’’

The Lady Longhorns are in the state slow-pitch tournament for the first time since 2005. Johnson sensed something special about this team early.

“After the fast-pitch season, they told me they were going to make it to state slow-pitch,’’ Johnson said. “We had good senior leaders. The girls would stay after practice and have coach (assistant Kevin) Burns and I hit balls to them  and pitch to them.’’

Johnson, who is in the state softball Hall of Fame, cringes when he hears people call slow-pitch a “recreational sport.’’

“Coach Burns and I take slow-pitch pretty seriously,’’ he said. “Most schools do. These girls work as hard as any other sport does. I think it’s the most underappreciated sport around.

“There’s a lot more strategy than people realize. We call the pitches like we would in fast-pitch, depending on the hitter. Rachel Lee (CHS pitcher) is able to place the ball pretty well.’’

Chisholm is hitting .420 as a team, which Johnson contributes to patience.

“The key is waiting for the ball to get to the strike zone,’’ he said. “Girls have a tendency to swing too early and pop up. We wait and turn on the ball. That’s the fundamentals of slow pitch.’’

Lee, a senior, leads the team in hitting with a .571 average, followed by left fielder Katelyn King (.557), shortstop Kammi Gruber (.495), rover Erin Norrie (.420), third baseman McKinle Hodges (.413), catcher Haley Stute (.412), first baseman Kenzie Butler (.390), center fielder Megan Pettus (.390),  second baseman Chelsey Harves (.290) and right fielder Kayla Jantz (.286).

“We’re pretty solid from top to bottom,’’ Johnson said.

The team’s strength is defense, although Johnson said the Lady Longhorns committed too many errors (11) in the regional tournament.

“Slow-pitch is a defensive game,’’ Johnson said.

Lee, being 6-foot-2, is an asset on balls hit up the middle.

No. 1 Dale hit six home runs in a 12-0 win over Chisholm in the regional winners bracket finals. Chisholm came back to beat host Crescent 8-7 for the second state berth from the regional.

The Lady Tigers almost came back from an 8-0 deficit with five runs in the sixth.

“We bent but we didn’t break,’’ Johnson said.

Johnson said he and Burns don’t expect his players to be nervous about surroundings. They have played in a fast-pitch tournament at the complex.

“I know they are excited to play there, but once the game starts, they will be focused on the game,’’ Johnson said. “We need to be relaxed, but we look at winning as the fun part.  I don’t think we have peaked yet.’’

Chisholm has 29 players out, impressive numbers considering the school a few years ago only had 12 to 13  out.

“They are all good kids,’’ Johnson said. “All of them deserve to be out there. The younger players are working hard. The future looks bright for Chisholm softball.’’

Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.�