October 15, 2013

For softball seniors, second chance at state also the last

Adam Troxtell
The Express-Star


Tomorrow, the Chickasha softball team will begin the last step to take the 5A state title they narrowly missed out on last year.

It's a story that's been written before, actually as early as June. Before lifting the national title last summer, the Oklahoma Sooner softball team had to endure their own championship game disappointment when Alabama beat them to the top in 2012.

"Whenever they won this year, I was thinking that same thing," said Tori Smith, one of three seniors on the Lady Chicks team who will look to copy the Sooner efforts this weekend.

Last year as an even younger team, Chickasha lost out 3-2 to Grove in the final. Now, they are one year older and wiser, and they've picked up a few key additions along the way. Throughout that process, the seniors -- Smith, Madison Snyder, and Shorty Clift -- have all maintained a significant role in the team. 

Clift has moved up to become the leadoff hitter, Smith has moved from catcher to third base and, most recently, second, while gaining a reputation for doubles at the plate. Snyder backs up starting pitcher Kelsi Gore, but started at first base throughout the regional tournament.

"The underclassmen look up to you, so you have to set a good example," Smith said. "If you're going to get down about being moved from position to position, that's going to reflect badly to your teammates and that's taking the team down. It's better to know your role, accept it, and find a way to help the team out."

As the end of their softball journey draws near, it's interesting to note how they came to the team in such different ways. Smith only started at Chickasha High School as a sophomore, while Clift didn't start playing softball until last year.

"I didn't think any of this could happen," Clift said. "Basketball was my main sport and softball was something to play. It's switched around this time."

Snyder has the most experience, since she began varsity softball as a freshman and stayed along for what turned out to be an interesting ride.

"We went from having some players that didn't really know what they were doing to having a lot of great players who actually had to fight for their positions," Snyder said. "It was a big change."

One thing remains the same: they were all there in the state final last year, and they'll all be there again. As seniors, there was a little more pressure on them to increase their workload, Clift said.

"We have to, because we went far last year, but we know our boundary is way beyond," she said. "We need to reach as far as we can, because we know we can go that far."

The entire team has taken more upon themselves, since even before the season began they all had eyes for the state prize. Now they're at the summit, and with seniority comes cooler heads.

 "You can't let the atmosphere suck you in," Smith said. "Coach [Dennis] Furr tells us to play every game like it's a championship. That way when you get there, you won't choke. Last year we were pretty much satisfied with just making it to the state tournament. This year, we have that hunger we want to satisfy. Now, we're not looking to just be there. We want to really be successful."

So now the Chickasha seniors will take the field for the final few times wearing the purple and white hoping to end on a high note, no matter how bittersweet it may feel.

"I'm sure we're all ready to see how far we can get," Clift said. "We're all excited, but it's also bitter because we don't want it to end."