By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Stillwater High had a championship game to get into the championship game in the Brad Holt Memorial Tournament.
With Stillwater’s game against Putnam City North deciding a spot in Sunday’s title game against Ponca City, which had locked up a spot earlier Saturday by completing an unbeaten pool play, the game had a feel of a championship game.
“We set the tone in the locker room an hour before the game that we had to win this game, no doubt about it,” Gage Hines said.
And with Sunday’s championship on the line, Hines delivered for the Pioneers with a walkoff single in the bottom of the seventh for a 2-1 victory.
The two teams were locked in a scoreless tie through the first four innings, with the SHS offense getting plenty of hits — collecting 10 for the game — but were unable to do much until the fifth inning.
Carson Teel, who was dominant on the mound, led off the inning with a triple down the right field line and was plated by the next batter, Ryan Hoecker.
Putnam City North tied the game in the top half of the frame, scoring an unearned run off of Teel. The Stillwater High left-handed ace went six innings, giving up three hits and two walks while striking out nine.
Hoecker, playing in Teel’s normal position of center field, had an influential role in the seventh, as well, leading off with an infield single — beating out the throw to give the Pioneers a runner. The SHS center fielder advanced to second with a stolen base to set up Hines’ heroics.
“Ryan’s got great speed and he gave great effort. I felt that when the fielder took a little longer that (Hoecker) was going to have a chance,” SHS coach Tony Holt said. “As soon as the guy took a little bit longer, with the ball necessarily not hit that hard, I knew we had a chance and ultimately put himself in position to get the winning run.”
Hines had been hitless in three plate appearances, but facing a 2-0 count against Putnam City North starting pitcher Garrett Rogers, Hines delivered a shot into the right field gap.
The final play wasn’t without drama, however. Hoecker didn’t get a good read on the hit and held up between second and third before finally making a break for the final score — beating the throw by several steps.
“It kind of surprised me because I thought I hit it pretty good and it was in the gap. I got to first base and turned around, expecting to see all the teammates coming at me, but Hoecker was still trying to score,” Hines said. “But he’s one of the fastest guys on the team, so I knew he’d get there.”
Though Stillwater had locked up a spot in Sunday’s championship, the Pioneers still had to play another contest against winless Enid in the nightcap.
With the game having no bearing in the title tilt, the Pioneers were able to preserve pitcher Sam Kraybill for a likely start on Sunday. Instead, the Pioneers gave several pitchers the chance to face the rival Plainsmen in a 9-2 loss with Enid starting pitcher Matt Mills throwing a complete game with nine strikeouts to earn the win.
The situation set up the perfect championship game for the 22nd annual Brad Holt Memorial Tournament, which for the first time is being played by high school teams as opposed to American Legion baseball teams. The Pioneers will play rival Ponca City, which swept a doubleheader against SHS earlier in the summer, at 3 p.m. at Couch Park.
“Making it against PC just makes it better because we lost a doubleheader to them at their place earlier in the year and that was just a heartbreaker,” Hines said. “We made it here last year to the title game and got unlucky. This year I think we can pull it out.”
Ponca City 5, Sand Springs 4
Ponca City faced its toughest test in pool play action, having to rally to beat Sand Springs in extra innings for the first extra-inning affair of the tournament.
The Sandites scratched three runs across in the fourth inning with Austin Garnett getting a two-out, two-run double to put Sand Springs up 4-2. But Ponca City scored one run in each of the final three innings to edge the Sandites.
Joey Furber scored the game-winner in the top of the eighth with a double to center to plate Travis Nichols, who led off the inning with a single.
Ponca City 8, Piedmont 4
The Wildcats solidified its spot in the championship game by building off a big six-run first inning for their fourth win in the pool play part of the tournament.
After Piedmont scored two runs in the top half of the first, Ponca City responded with a six-run frame in which 12 batters came to the plate with only three hits being recorded. Piedmont’s defense recorded three errors in the inning, with the Wildcats also drawing three walks.
Brian Wicker came up with an RBI triple in the inning, while Chase Kurtz closed out the rally with a two-out, two-run single to right.
Ponca City scratched two more runs across in the fourth with an RBI double by Nichols, followed by a double by Sam Flowers to plate Nichols.