By BOB FORREST
ROFF — In the spring, a young man’s fancy is supposed to turn to thoughts of love. For the past six years, though, spring had meant just one thing for the young ladies of the Roff softball team — getting back to the state tournament.
Roff has spent the last week of five of the past six slowpitch seasons at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, and the Lady Tigers will go through what they hope will be a dress rehearsal for another trip to the state tournament when they face some of the state’s best teams Friday and Saturday at the Hall of Fame Classic.
“Any time you go to Hall of Fame, it’s a special occasion,” said Roff head coach Kathy Gregson, whose squad will play Rattan (No. 1 in Class 3A), Hobart and Webbers Falls in its three pool play games before facing a fourth team (to be determined) in its final tournament game Saturday. “There are teams from all over the state there, so you get to see teams you don’t get to see all the time.”
In addition to Gregson’s squad, three other local teams — Konawa (No. 2 in Class 4A), Tupelo (No. 4 in Class A) and Sulphur (No. 19 in Class 5A) will be in Oklahoma City Friday and Saturday as part of a big next-to-last week of the 2010 spring softball and baseball regular season. Byng, Coalgate, Latta, Stonewall, Wanette and Sasakwa will all be at the Moss softball tournament Wednesday through Saturday, and the week’s baseball action will be highlighted by the Roff Tournament Thursday through Saturday and Ada’s trip to the rugged Carl Albert Tournament Wednesday through Saturday.
Roff’s first visit of the spring to Oklahoma City is just part of one of the state’s toughest softball schedules. As a result, the Lady Tigers enter the week with a disappointing 10-9 record, but Gregson said her team’s two most recent games — run-rule victories over Stonewall (17-7) and Wanette (10-0) at Thursday’s Roff Festival — could be an indication the Lady Tigers have turned the corner.
“We really sat and talked about it, and with this group of girls I’ve got, I’m lucky,” she said. “Their hearts are in the right place ... their heads just stray a little bit. We just needed some leaders to step up, and they kind of fixed it themselves.
“I think this group can be as good as they want to be,” Gregson added. “I don’t think we have a player on the team that doesn’t have the talent to contribute. If they play with some instinct, I think they’re as good as anybody in our class — although our class is very good this year.”
In addition to producing a number of All-State performers over the years, Gregson’s program has also received a steady infusion of young talent. This year’s club has four seniors — Catie Tolliver, Tera Otis, Bianca Ott and Ashlyn McCullar — and a junior (Tori Thomas) but also starts four sophomores and two freshmen.
“We’re pretty fortunate each year that we’ve had a mixture in every class that gets to start and gets some playing time, and they get better as they get older.”
Tolliver — like Otis a four-year starter — was an All-State outfielder last fall, helping the Lady Tigers to the school’s first-ever fast-pitch state championship game (where they lost to defending champion Sasakwa).
“Catie is our anchor in the outfield and our leadoff hitter,” Gregson said. “She’s smart, she’s quick and she finds a way to get on base. She’s an emotional and a physical leader.”
Otis has been a fixture at first base throughout her career and she has also pitched a couple of games this spring. In addition to being one of the state’s best defensive first basemen, she supplies a dependable bat in the middle of the lineup.
“Tera is Steady Eddie,” Gregson said. “She’s just solid, she’s always there. She’s gonna scoop a ball out of the dirt or get a hit when we need it.”
McCullar is a three-year starter in left field, while Ott — the team’s second baseman last fall — has taken over the pitching duties from Sam Hays, who graduated last spring.
“When Sam Hays graduated last year, we had a spot to fill,” she explained. “Bianca doesn’t play basketball, and she spent the entire offseason working on pitching, because we needed it. She struggled throwing strikes early in the season, but I think by playoff time she’s going to be exactly what we need.
“Ashlyn is a great asset in slow-pitch, because she can hit to either side of the field and she’s got good speed,” Gregson said. “She usually hits seven- or eight-hole for us, and she’s an unusual hitter for that low in the lineup.”
Thomas is in her first season as a starter in center field, and Gregson said her only junior brings a lot to the table, both offensively and defensively.
“Tori has probably been our most consistent hitter — she’s like an automatic baserunner when she gets up,” she said. “This is her first year to start in center, and she’s picked it up pretty well. We’re trying to prepare her for being our leader in the outfield next year.”
Three of Roff’s four sophomores — J.J. Stewart, Magan Kile and Jordan Grinstead — started as freshmen, and the fourth, Monica Miller, adds speed to the equation.
Stewart — who missed most of the fast-pitch season with a knee injury but has been solid at second base this spring — and Kile both have older brothers who were All-State baseball players at Roff, and Gregson said neither is a typical sophomore.
“I’ve been telling J.J. since she was a freshman to step up and be a leader, and she does a good job of that,” Gregson noted. “She leads by example. She’s always working hard and spending extra time, she’s positive, and she gives it everything she’s got.”
Kile, the team’s designated hitter in fast-pitch, is in her second spring as Roff’s catcher.
“We had graduated our catcher, and we needed one,” Gregson recalled. “We wanted to put a good hitter behind the plate, and we had several options. A lot of kids kind of turn up their noses at catching in slowpitch, but Magan wanted a position she could call her own. She’s turned into a good catcher, and she’s always had a lot of natural hitting ability.”
Grinstead started at shortstop in the fall and has moved to third base this spring, while Miller is starting in right field and is another one of the speedsters in the speeders in the Roff lineup.
“Jordan has really started talking more lately, and that’s a good thing,” Gregson said. “Normally, she’s a very laid-back person, but lately she’s driven. If she keeps that up, there’s no telling what she can accomplish. She’s got all the tools.
“Monica is a speed demon,” she said. “You’ve got to field it clean and throw it quick, or she’s on base.”
Shortstop Casey Kelly and extra hitter/first baseman Taylor Canida are the top representatives of the kind of talented freshman class that has become the norm at Roff over the past few years.
“Kelly’s got an arm, she’s got speed, and she’s got all kinds of range,” Gregson said of Kelly, who was the team’s catcher in fast-pitch. “We had to replace (senior) Jodie (Byers), and I put her there because I knew she would probably be our shortstop there for four years in slowpitch.”
Canida was one of the state’s top pitchers as a freshman last fall, and she has been a fixture in the middle of the Roff batting order since joining the varsity.
“She’s got power to both sides of the field,” Gregson said. “When Tera’s pitching, she plays first base.”
Roff and Sasakwa both made surprising runs to the fast-pitch championship game in October, and Gregson said she believes her team — which has never advanced beyond the semifinals in slowpitch — is capable of challenging for a state title this spring, despite competing a class that has unbeaten Fort Cobb-Broxton and perennial power Davenport as favorites.
“I think it’s going to be pretty tough to win it, but our first goal every year is to get to the state tournament,” she said. “Now, it’s almost getting to the point where we do expect to be there, and we’re ready to take the next step.
“I think this team has the potential to do it,” Gregson said. “It will be tough because of the competition in our class this year, but once you get there, anything can happen.”