Latta’s Jim Foster and Tupelo’s Brian Davis have done things no previous coach was able to do with the softball programs at their respective schools.

Foster was the first coach ever to take a Latta team to a fast-pitch state tournament when the Lady Panthers turned the trick back in 2006, and Davis became the first Tupelo coach to win a slowpitch state championship earlier that year, then his teams made it to Oklahoma City in the fall of both 2006 and 2007.

This week, Foster and Davis will head off to their third straight state tournaments, with Latta the No. 6 seed in Class 2A’s Elite Eight and Davis taking the No. 5 team in Class B to Hall of Fame Stadium to challenge one of the deepest and toughest fields in any class in Oklahoma this fall.

Latta (21-6) will face Colbert (30-4) in a No. 6 versus No. 3 matchup at 3:15 p.m. Thursday, and with a victory the Lady Panthers will advance to a high noon shootout Friday with the winner of Thursday’s 2A opener between No. 11 Stroud (which eliminated defending state champion Konawa en route to winning the regional at Oktaha last week) and No. 2 Healdton. The 2A championship game will be played at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Tupelo, meanwhile, will face fourth-ranked Moss (25-8) — a team the Lady Tigers have beaten twice this year — in a No. 5 versus No. 4 contest, also at noon Thursday. An opening-round win will earn the Lady Tigers a semifinal showdown with the winner of a 5 p.m. opening-round game between top-ranked Red Oak and No. 8 Binger-Oney at 10 a.m. Friday.

Class B’s title game will be played at 5 p.m. Saturday, with second-ranked Sasakwa (33-5) the favorite on the opposite side of the bracket from Tupelo. The Lady Vikings will play Forgan in a No. 2 versus No. 7 match-up at 1:45 p.m. Thursday and, with a victory, will face either Leedey (the defending fast-pitch and slowpitch state champion) or Arnett at 4 p.m. Friday in the semifinals.

“I think it’s a good draw for us,” Foster said. “We’ve beaten everybody on our side of the bracket this year, which is a plus.”

Latta edged Colbert, 2-1, in a game called after six innings because of the time limit at last month’s Durant Tournament, and the Lady Panthers also upset then-No. 1 Healdton at home on Sept. 2. Foster’s club — a mix of veterans, several of whom will be starting in their third straight tournament, and a talented group of younger players — survived a scare from Drumright in the winner’s bracket championship game at the Latta regional Thursday, but after escaping with a come-from-behind 2-1 victory the Lady Panthers rolled over No. 10 Dale, 8-1, in the championship game.

Foster, whose 2006 team was beaten by eventual state champ Oktaha and who saw his 2007 club blanked, 12-0, by an Apache squad that was arguably the hottest team in the state before losing a 2-0 thriller to Konawa in the semifinals, said the Lady Panthers’ previous experience could give them an edge over a higher-ranked Colbert squad without a player who has seen any action at the fast-pitch state tournament.

“We’ve been there and know what it’s all about,” Foster said. “(Colbert) hasn’t been there in three or four years at least. They’re a good ballclub — they put pressure on you — but if we do what we do best we can beat them.

“I think we’re a little better now than the last time we played them,” he said. “The key for us it to go in relaxed and play our best. We just can’t afford a bad inning.”

Latta’s championship hopes will probably hinge on the performance of pitcher Autumn Lawrence, who will start her third straight state tournament opener Thursday. The senior righthander was 20-6 while facing the toughest teams on one of the state’s toughest schedules, and, although she had run into hot teams in her first two state tournament starts, she allowed just two runs in three starts in the regional last week and didn’t allow a run at all in the Lady Panthers’ regional last fall.

Fellow seniors Caitlyn James and Jackye Rosser (who both homered in the regional tournament) will be also be starting in their third straight state tournament for Latta, while seniors Lashun Oakley and Tara MacCollister and juniors Taylor McDonald and Sara Miller all started for the Lady Panthers in Oklahoma City last fall. Foster’s two freshmen, Kaitlin Hisaw and Keeli Kessinger, could also be a big key this week, with Hisaw (the team’s fastest player) having established herself as one of the most dangerous leadoff hitters in 2A this fall and Kessinger supplying a big bat in the middle of the lineup.

Tupelo suffered four of its six losses this fall during a six-game stretch last month capped by a 1-0 loss to Stonewall on Sept. 16. Since then, though, the Lady Tigers have won 10 in a row, including three straight at one of Class B’s toughest regionals last week.

Davis, who has won at least 30 games at Tupelo every season since he took over the softball program in the fall of 2005, said his team’s late-season surge coincided with the improved health of pitcher Shanna Davidson. The hard-throwing righty was battling a couple of minor injuries during the Lady Tigers’ brief early September swoon but dominated during the regional tournament to improve to 20-4 this fall.

“It all starts with your pitcher,” Davis said. “Shanna wasn’t 100 percent in the middle of the season, and we battled through it. Since she got healthy, we’ve been playing a lot better. And it’s not just her. We’ve been making plays behind her, too.

“We’ve played the best ball we’ve played all year since the second inning at Byng (in a victory a few days after the loss to Stonewall) that we’ve played all year — we didn’t have an easy district and we had a real tough regional, and we just took care of business and played really well,” he added. “We were struggling when we lost to Stonewall, and that might have been a little bit of a wake-up call, but at the same time, we just got back to working hard. Right now we’re playing with a lot of confidence and believing in what we’re doing.”

Tupelo beat Moss, 2-0, at the Tupelo Tournament (which the Lady Tigers won) in August, then again, 3-1, at the Moss Tournament last month. Davis said those two victories, coupled with the recent winning streak, should give his young but veteran club reason to be confident heading into Thursday’s opener.

“Moss is a good team, but once you get up (to the state tournament), everybody is a good team,” he said. “If we do what we do well, we’ll be fine.

“We know if we go up there and play well, we can compete with anybody, but once you get there, you have to be on every day,” Davis said. “A mistake here and there will be enough to beat you.”

Tupelo’s 2006 and 2007 state tournament teams were led by All-Staters Kendra Pearce (who graduated in 2007), Katie Campbell and Ari Rice (who graduated this spring), and, he said this year’s club — which has two seniors (Josie Soukup and Lindsey Davidson), two juniors (Megan Bray and Amber Roberson), four sophomores (Shanna Davidson, Landra Nelson, Grace Leland and Chesna Henry) and one freshman (Tamara Thompson) in the starting lineup — has an entirely different personality than his previous teams. “This team is different,” said Davis, whose team in the fall of 2006 was eliminated by Moss in the first round of the state and whose 2007 club lost to Sentinel in the semifinals last year. “We rely more on our speed and slapping the ball, and we’re more aggressive with our baserunning. We just have a different look about us this year.

“It’s been fun to coach every team I’ve coached,” Davis said. “The fun thing about this team is that they’re so young.

“Lindsey and Josie have both stepped up as seniors to take on the leadership role,” he said. “And those sophomores have really come on from their freshman year.”