By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It wasn’t for the Gipper. Instead, the Stillwater High baseball team won one for the Big Puma.
Just weeks after Tony Holt, who is called Big Puma by his players, informed his players that he had resigned his position at the head of the Pioneer baseball program, the Pioneer players gave their coach the best finish he could imagine — winning the tournament named for his late nephew.
“On a personal level, this is all you can ask for — to win the last game I’ll coach here because we don’t have any more home games this summer,” Holt said following Sunday’s 7-6 extra-inning victory over rival Ponca City to claim the championship of the Brad Holt Memorial Tournament. “Resigning was a very hard thing for me to do because I love the kids, this program and this town and all it’s meant to me over these years. I know it’s the right decision for me and my family, but it didn’t make it any easier.”
The departure of Holt, who was showered with a tub of water by the players after the game, was all the motivation — but not the only boost —the Pioneers needed to come up big in the Holt tournament, which for the first time was a high school tournament instead of featuring American Legion baseball teams.
And it was that motivation that propelled the Pioneers to rally on three different occasions, including in the bottom of the seventh to force an extra frame.
“He’s put a lot of effort into this program. He got a little emotional after the game, but congrats to him. I love the guy,” senior Carson Teel said.
But Tony Holt wasn’t the only Holt the SHS players had in mind this weekend. With many of the Holt family members volunteering for the tournament — and cheering on the Pioneers all weekend — the Stillwater players were happy to give the family a win, especially after coming up just short in last year’s title game against the Stillwater Legionnaires.
“It’s great for this family, they put a lot of effort into this and coach Holt is one of my best friends and we just wanted to do it for him and his family,” Teel said. “It was disappointing last year when we lost it, but it feels really good this year.”
And the players made it a good finale to the 22nd annual Brad Holt tournament against the rival Wildcats from the north.
Gage Hines, the hero Saturday against Putnam City North to put the Pioneers in the title game, made up for some miscues behind the plate in Sunday’s title game — which led to Ponca City scoring the go-ahead run in the top of the seventh — by redeeming himself when leading off in the bottom of the eighth.
After hitting a single through the left side, the SHS catcher advanced to second on a ball in the dirt. A grounder by Harrison Cornforth allowed Hines to advance to third, where he scored on a shot to left off the wall — that would have been a home run had the wind not been blowing in — by Sam Kraybill.
“He threw me two curveballs to begin with and I was just sitting dead-red with a 1-1 count,” said Kraybill, who went six innings as Stillwater’s starting pitcher before Riley Williams came in the final two innings to earn his second win in relief this weekend. “I knew a fastball, or something good, was coming in. So I just sat on the fastball and it was right there. Got a good swing on it and made contact.”
Teel, who went 3 for 4 with three runs scored and reached on error in seventh to allow Spencer Parsons to score the game-tying run, was named the tournament most valuable player.
“It’s awesome. I love the family. Alex (Tony’s son) is one of my best friends, so it’s a good feeling to know I’m the MVP of the Brad Holt tournament,” Teel said.