The 2006 slow-pitch softball season was a disappointing one for a number of area teams, with only two — Tupelo and Asher — reaching the state tournament after a half-dozen or so were ranked in the top 10 in their respective classes entering the playoffs.

But voters recognized the obvious invidivual talent in the south Central Oklahoma, naming 17 area seniors to the Oklahoma Slowpitch Softball Coaches Association’s All-State Game, to be played at the University of Oklahoma softball complex on Saturday, June 24.

Byng’s Kelsey Williamson and Laura Merriman from Holdenville are members of the Large West squad, while Chelsey Bennett and Charissa Smith of Latta will play on the Middle East team and will face a Middle West squad coached by Konawa’s Jennifer Matthews and featuring Lady Tiger players Heather Reeves, Lacy Brooks and Natalie McClain.

The largest area delegation will be present on the Small East squad, which boasts a total of 10 players representing five schools from this region.

Desiree Bell and Katelyn Roberts of Class A state champ Tupelo are on the Small East team, along with Nicki Nail and Destiny Graham, who led Asher to the school’s first softball state tournament appearance ever in 2006.

In addition, the Small East squad includes Jamie Fowler, Tess Truett and C. J. Horton of Roff, Tobie Daniel from Stonewall and Sally Wallace and Morgan Lipsey of Wanette.

Bennett and Smith were the only two senior starters on a Latta club that, like Konawa, was ranked in the top six in Class 4A for most of the season but, like the Lady Tigers, failed to advance past the regional round of the playoffs. One of the area’s best all-around athletes, Bennett (a first-team AEN All-Area basketball selection) was the rover and three-hole hitter for the Lady Panthers (who were eliminated, 6-4, by Oktaha in the regional tournament), while Smith batted clean-up and played first base.

“They had real good seasons this spring,” Latta coach Jim Foster said of Bennett and Smith. “They hit the ball as well as they’ve ever hit it and turned out to be real good team leaders.

“We were basically one hit away from the state tournament,” he added. “I know it was disappointing for our seniors, but they did everything they could.”

Foster acknowledged that a strong performance in the state tournament is usually needed for a player to earn all-state honors, but he added that Bennett and Smith were named to the team as much for their career accomplishments as for what they did in 2006.

“Being in the state tournament the past three years, people had seen them already and knew who they were,” he said. “They had had good state tournaments before. With our schedule, a lot of people got to see them last fall and this spring.”

Tupelo and Asher also had just two senior starters this spring, but both teams enjoyed the best slow-pitch season in school history.

The Lady Tigers, who just missed the state tournament last fall (losing 4-3 in the regional final on a seventh-inning home run), made amends this spring, posting a remarkable 43-6 record and, after winning nail-biters in the first two rounds of the state tournament, beat defending champ Moss in the title game.

Roberts was named Tupelo’s MVP after winning 41 of 47 decisions on the mound to lead all pitchers in all classes, and she had a remarkable string of 20 straight scoreless innings in the state tournament while allowing just 21 hits and three walks in 28 innings pitched. She was also one of the state’s most feared home run hitters with eight round-trippers during the season.

Bell, meanwhile, batted second in the Tupelo line-up and patrolled center field, teaming with underclassmen Kendra Pearce, Brittanie Williams and Lindsey Davidson to give the Lady Tigers one of the state’s best defensive outfields.

“Desiree is a great athlete with tremendous speed,” first-year Tupelo coach Brian Davis said of Bell, who hit .476 in the state tournament with three doubles. “With her in the outfield, I could leave her on the right side and Kendra to handle the left side, and they covered everything up the middle.

“Katelyn was a great kid and very coachable,” Davis added. “She was our slow-pitch player of the year, and it showed a lot about her character that when her dad had open-heart surgery she waited until he was out of surgery and came to the regional tournament.”

Interim coach Terry Grissom (Asher’s school superintendent), who took the surprising Lady Indians to the state tournament and saw them play top-ranked Arapaho to a virtual standstill before dropping a tough 7-3 decision in the opening round, said Nail and Graham were probably the keys to his team’s unprecedented success.

“They were a huge reason we got to the state tournament this year,” Grissom said of his two seniors, who batted Nos. 3 and 4 in the order and held down the left side of the infield on defense. “hey both showed a lot of senior leadership, not only in words but in action. “hey were two of the hardest workers we had, and I think that carried over to the way they played every day. And they’re even better kids than they are softball players.”

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