Three innings. Three opportunities. Nine outs. That’s what the Chickasha High School baseball team had Thursday against Altus in an elimination game of the regional tournament at Elliott Field, but the Fightin’ Chicks came up painfully short, abruptly ending their season.
Chickasha lost 3-1 to an Altus team that had only won seven games going into the regional tournament; one of those victories came against Chickasha in mid-March. The Chicks' final record for 2012 is 21-11.
After earning the privilege to host its regional tournament, Chickasha opened the playoffs with a 21-1 victory over Western Heights on Wednesday.
Derek Stephens pitched all five innings of the game, allowing three hits and one run, striking out five batters.
John Mitchell went 1-for-2 with three RBIs, and Brant Haile went 2-for-3 with three RBIs to lead the way offensively for the Fightin’ Chicks.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, head coach Brad Gore put the reserves in the game, and they put up seven runs. Kris Lennier, Hayden Johnson, Walker Hines and Trevor Rider all had RBIs in the inning.
Of course, that game was just a warm-up for the real test, a game against Shawnee. The Wolves were the No. 7 team in the state, but had lost to Chickasha in a 10-9 game at the Bill Tipton Tournament.
The Chicks took a 3-0 lead in the game, before Shawnee tied it up in the bottom of the third inning with three runs of its own. The Wolves added two more in the second, before breaking the game open with a seven-run fifth inning that knocked Chickasha starting pitcher Blake Burns out of the game. Shawnee started the inning with a first-pitch leadoff home run.
Chickasha got out of that fifth inning with the help of Zach Ervin and Cade Morris, who pitched in relief and each recorded one out. Ryker Steelman finished the game.
“We just got behind too much, and didn’t throw a lot of first-pitch strikes,” Gore said. “We hit people and walk people, then all of a sudden they have a lot of base-runners and a few timely hits.”
Gore said inconsistency in the team’s relief pitching has been a recurring problem, and it reared its head against Shawnee.
“We’ve been so inconsistent with the guys we bring in,” Gore said. “One day they’re good, one day they’re bad. That really hurts us when we’re trying to pull the trigger on someone.”
Chickasha lost 12-6, and went into Thursday tasked with having to win two games to have a chance at the regional title and a state tournament berth.
Things didn’t start well against Altus. Steelman started on the mound for the Fightin’ Chicks, but was pulled from the game after facing only four batters and recording one out. He gave up one run on two singles and a walk in his short stint. Lane Smith took over and pitched the rest of the game.
Altus got two more runs in the fourth inning to take a 3-0 lead going into the fifth, and after that point there were several instances in which it appeared Chickasha was poised to make a comeback.
First, the fifth inning. The inning started with a lead-off walk by Luke Dixon, followed by a walk for Cade Morris. Just like that, the tying run was on and the potential winning run was at the plate.
Lane Smith stepped to the plate and hit a good ball that drove in Dixon, but Smith got caught between second and third and was tagged out. While the Altus defense was focused on Smith, Morris tried to make a dash for home, but was thrown out after Smith was tagged out.
Just like that, Chickasha went from possibly having runners on second and third with no outs and down two runs, to having no runners on base and two outs. John Mitchell walked after that, but Brant Haile popped up for the final out.
Chickasha held Altus scoreless in the bottom of the fifth, and had another chance at completing the comeback in the sixth. Chickasha loaded the bases on two walks and a single, but was not able to score a run.
In the seventh, the Chicks got runners on first and third but again could not capitalize, and the season ended on a called strike three for Landon Thomas at the plate.
“We just didn’t make plays when we needed to, and we had some big mistakes on the bases that cost us,” Gore said. “We just didn’t get that clutch hit, and they just beat us. We had some great opportunities to score. Tough way to end the season.”
Chickasha had somewhat of a troublesome start early in the season, especially in late March. But the team bounced back, improved, and earned the right to host regionals.
“These guys did improve a lot throughout the year, which is what you’re looking for,” Gore said. “But, you know, we just didn’t get it done today. So we just go back and try to get better for next year.”