NORMAN — Pitcher Rachael Merchant and her Washita Heights teammates made just one major mistake in 19 innings of work at Wednesday’s Class A Slow-Pitch Softball State Tournament — they gave Tupelo sluggers Kendra Pearce and Katie Campbell one too many times at bat.

After Tupelo starter Katelyn Roberts and her defense escaped a huge jam in the bottom of the 13th inning, Pearce and Campbell — a combined 1-for-12 in the game to that point — stroked key two-out hits in the top of the 14th to finally end the longest scoreless game in Oklahoma slow-pitch state tournament history and lift the second-ranked Lady Tigers to a remarkable 4-0 victory over the sixth-ranked Lady Chiefs aat Reaves Park.

The win capped a day of great escapes for Tupelo, which used key Mulhall-Orland errors to rally past the Lady Panthers, 6-5, in the afternoon’s first game and improved to 40-6 on the season with the improbable win over Washita Heights — a victory that lifted the Lady Tigers into tonight’s state championship contest against old rival Moss at 7:30 p.m. at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City. 

Moss, the defending state champ but a team Tupelo manhandled, 10-0, in last weekend’s regional tournament at Moss, had a pretty amazing day of its own. The No. 5 Lady Pirates started the afternoon with a 3-0 victory over fourth-ranked Leedey, then capped the opening day of action in Class A with an unearned run in the bottom of the seventh to edge No. 1 Arapaho, 4-3.

“We didn’t hit the ball very well, and we made some errors on defense,” first-year Tupelo coach Brian Davis said after his young team’s marathon win over Washita Heights.  “We didn’t play very well and we won two games at the state tournament.  I think that says a lot about my girls’ character and their heart.

“Moss is a real good team...we probably know them as well as any team in the tournament,” he added.  “I figured they would beat Leedey, but the Arapaho game kinda surprised me.  Moss is there every year playing, though, and they know how to win.”

Davis said he expects Moss to “come out fired-up” in today’s title game but added that his team’s impressive win at the regional makes the Lady Tigers the team to beat.

“Adrenalin will only carry you about an inning, then you have to settle down and play the game,” Davis said.  “I think (the win in the regional) helps us, because we know that, if we go play, we’re better than they are.

We know them and they know us,” he continued. “We’ve hit their pitcher about as well as anybody we’ve faced this year, and hopefully that will continue.” 

And, if history means anything, the Lady Tigers are in good shape this evening. 

In 1991, Tupelo beat Washita Heights in four overtimes (in the only other previous meeting between the two schools in any sport) in the semifinals and went on to claim the school’s only boys state basketball title the next day.    


Tupelo 4, Washita Heights 0

Washita Heights, which clobbered third-ranked Coleman, 12-1, in a five-inning run-rule shocker in the second game of the afternoon, managed just five hits off Roberts (38-6) through 12 innings, but in the 13th, the Lady Chiefs used Tupelo’s first error of the game to mount their first real threat.

Hollie Butterbaugh led off the inning with a single to left, then Becky Merchant hit a ground ball to Tupelo third baseman Ari Rice, who fielded it moving to her left but threw wide of second baseman Heather Martin and into right field. 

Butterbaugh moved to third on the play, and, after Dani Merchant lined out to Campbell at short, Roberts semi-intentionally walked Dawnel Holland on four pitches (the only walk issued by the Tupelo senior left-hander in the game) to load the bases.  Lori Capron then lined out to Desire Bell (Tupelo’s only other senior) in center field for the second out of the inning, and Washita Heights’ 10-hole hitter, Kenda Dyck, tapped back to Roberts to end the threat.

“After all our close games this year and the way we work on it our practices, we expect to make the big plays at crunch time,” Davis said of his team’s ability to escape trouble all season.  “We expect the other team to make the big mistake.  I told Katelyn (in a meeting on the mound after Rice’s error) not to throw (Holland) a strike.  If she wanted to swing at a ball, that was okay.”

Lindsey Davidson, who homered in the win over Mulhall-Orlando, led off the 14th for Tupelo with a single to right but was forced at second on Heather Martin’s fielder’s choice grounder to third.  Brittanie Williams (Tupelo’s 10-hole hitter) followed with a sharp grounder to Dani Merchant at third, but this time Merchant’s throw was too late to get Martin at second.

Pearce, who had managed just an eighth-inning single off Rachael Merchant and hadn’t taken a pitch all day, again went after Merchant’s first offering, and the Lady Tigers’ leadoff hitter lined a single to left to score Martin with the first run of the game.

Bell, who had five hits in Tupelo’s two games Wednesday, lined a single to center to load the bases and bring up Campbell, who was hitless and had seen a total of seven pitches in her previous six at-bats against Merchant.  Like Pearce, Campbell went after the first pitch she saw once again and lined it into the left-field corner for a bases-clearing triple to give Roberts some insurance.

Roberts looked like she might need the extra runs when Tracey Mahurin laced a one-out double to left in the bottom of the 14th, but she retired Rachael Merchant popped out to Williams in left and Courtney Hinz followed with a tapper back to the mound to end the game.

Tupelo’s rally in the top of the 14th halted an amazing streak of 17 consecutive scoreless innings by Rachael Merchant, who allowed a first-inning run to Coleman but didn’t give up another until the Lady Tigers’ game-winning four-spot.  Unlike Roberts, she pitched in and out of trouble throughout the game’s 150 minutes, scattering 14 hits and stranding 17 Tupelo baserunners through 13 innings.

Campbell (who hits third in the line-up), left the bases loaded in the third when she popped out to right after singles by Kassi Fortner, Williams and Bell, and Roberts (the Lady Tigers’ clean-up hitter) also popped out to right for the final out in the eighth, after Williams and Pearce had singled and Campbell had reached on an error to load the bases.

Tupelo filled the sacks again in the ninth on one-out singles by Kylie Curry and Davidson, a fielder’s choice and a walk to Martin, but Williams grounded out to second to end that threat.

Roberts, meanwhile, allowed only one baserunner past second base (Kaci Hagy, who led off the game with an infield hit but was stranded at third when Rachael Merchant grounded into a 6-4-3 double play started by Campbell) before the Lady Chiefs threatened in the 13th.

Rice, who, like Bell, had five hits in Tupelo’s two games Wednesday, was 3-for-6 against Merchant and teamed with Bell, Pearce, Campbell and Williams to pace Tupelo’s 17-hit attack.


Tupelo 6, Mulhall-Orlando 5

Heather Martin’s two-out RBI single in the bottom of the sixth drove home Davidson with Tupelo’s third unearned run in its final two at-bats and helped the Lady Tigers steal an ugly victory to start the day.

Tupelo led 3-0 after two innings on the strength of Rice’s clutch two-out, two-run single in the first (after Pearce singled and Bell doubled leading off the game) and Davidson’s inside-the-park homer into the right-field corner in the second

But Mulhall-Orlando (25-10) used two of Tupelo’s four errors in the game to score twice in the third and took the lead with three more runs (the only earned runs Roberts surrendered in her 21 innings on the mound Wednesday) in the fifth on a two-run single by Kellie Cypers and a RBI hit by Rachel Donaldson.

Tupelo got its biggest break of the afternoon in the bottom of the fifth, when, after two-out singles from Pearce and Bell, Campbell lifted a fly ball that rover Kayle Golay tracked down in center field.  But Golay got tangled up with center fielder Kayla Wiss and dropped the ball, allowing Pearce and Bell to score and tie the game.

In the sixth, Davidson hit a two-out ground ball to Karah Hall at second base, but Hall booted it for Mulhall-Orlando’s third error of the contest.  Davidson moved to second on a single by Kassi Fortner and scored when Martin lined a single to left.

“I told the girls that being seeded No. 2 probably allowed them to play one bad game and survive,” Davis said.  “I told them that this was that game, and they had better play better (against Washita Heights) or we were going to go home early.”

Pearce, Bell and Fortner each had two of Tupelo’s 10 hits in the game, while Golay, Cypers and Yost had two singles apiece to pace Mulhall’s nine-hit attack.



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