Adam Troxtell, Sports Editor, email@example.com
If attitude makes the difference, Chickasha can put a valuable win over Carl Albert down to an overnight mood swing.
It was mentality, head coach Brad Gore said, that made the biggest difference in the Fightin' Chicks' 2-1 win over the Titans, considered one of the best teams in Class 5A, on Tuesday. Mathematically it was a two-run sixth inning that took the Chicks to the comeback victory.
But for a team that has struggled at times this season to get the hits they need against the top teams, the attitude had to come first.
"I thought the guys did an outstanding job today after what we had to take [Monday,]" Gore said. "They were hitting that thing all over the yard, and today they get three hits. When we got done with the game yesterday, we talked a lot in the dugout about how that's not what our program is based on.
"We talked about what kind of team we had an our mentality when we came back today. Would we be a tough Chickasha, hard-minded, hard fighting team like we've had for the last ten years, or are we going to be soft, and I think they answered that question today."
Another big difference was the pitching for Chickasha. They got seven good innings out of three of their top hurlers, most importantly sophomore starter Brayden Belden. In 4.2 innings he struck out seven batters, walked five and let up zero runs. It's not the first time this season he's received post-game praise, and with this trend it shouldn't be the last.
The Fightin' Chicks have made somewhat of a habit of closely-fought games that are edged out in the end. It's a much more defense-minded team that focuses on keeping the hits they need to win as low as possible.
Today, they put two in play right off the bat. Luke Dixon's leadoff single nearly led to a first inning Chickasha lead when Brooks Bush sent one up the middle. Titans center fielder Steve Thompson saved his team with a perfect throw to catcher Logan Welchel who easily tagged Dixon out at home.
Chickasha's defense proved just as stingy. Belden struck out 6' 3", 235-pound infielder Gavin LaValley in the opening frame and later with two on for the second out in the fifth.
But when he walked Cameron Warren to load the bases with two outs, Gore decided it was time to throw something new at Carl Albert in the form of senior Cade Morris. Still settling in, Morris ended up walking in the Titans' only run before striking out Garrett Wages to end the fifth.
In the top of the sixth, still down 1-0, freshman Brock Henderson came onto the mound with one out and the bases loaded. Relief pitcher Justin McGregor struck out looking before Henderson disposed of LaValley, his third strikeout of the afternoon, to keep the deficit at one.
That and leadoff Dixon getting the leadoff walk provided momentum for the turnaround. Bush laid down a well-executed bunt to advance Dixon and Morris followed in step to load the bases. Derek Sullivan's shot down the third base line was handled by LaValley but dropped as Carl Albert tried to get Dixon out at home.
All tied up, Tresjon Davis brought in the winner in similar fashion. This time it was a roller down the first base line. Initially bobbled, Davis was put out at first, but in the meantime Bush crossed home for the go-ahead run.
A three up three down in the top of the seventh secured yet another close win for Chickasha. It's something fans may have to get used to; Gore said this team understands how to get wins using the skills they have. That may not necessarily result in calm hearts.
"We are going to play those kind of games against those types of teams right there," he said. "We're not going to be able to bang out hits and win a game against them, with their ones and twos going. I don't know if it'll be too much different for us throughout the year."
There was certainly a statement made, however, in the eyes of the players. Carl Albert had run-ruled just about every 5A team they've come up against this season, and Chickasha just showed they can hang with them.
"It gives us a lot of confidence, I think," Dixon said. "It gives us a lot of enthusiasm. We're going to be a really good team from now on."