For the first time in Todd Smalley’s coaching career, his team will finish with a losing record.

And yet, hope remains for the Stillwater Majors.

After all, they still have a chance to achieve a feat that hasn’t been reached since 1989 — winning an American Legion state championship.

“I told them, ‘I won’t give up on you guys until we’re done,’” Smalley said. “We’ll keep practicing, grinding it out and we won’t quit. They’ve been down all year long, but they’ve never quit. They’ve proven to be a resilient bunch.”

Stillwater (9-25) punched its ticket to the State Tournament last weekend by finishing second in its district tourney, which included Enid and Bartlesville.

With Enid, the three-time defending state champion, being named the host site of the state tourney, it automatically qualifed for the final eight — leaving the Majors and Bartlesville to battle for the district runner-up spot.

Stillwater was immediately backed against the wall last Friday as it dropped a 13-3 decision to the Indians in the tourney opener. The Majors, who had lost five straight against Bartlesville, bounced back 24 hours later and edged Bartlesville, 7-6, in an elimination game.

The Legionnaires held a 3-1 advantage early in the contest but trailed, 6-5, going into the bottom of the ninth. A two-RBI single by Chris Armstrong sealed the victory, and a solid performance on the mound by Clay Hattey also played a large role in the Majors’ postseason surge.

Despite the 100-degree heat, Hattey — a Labette (Kan.) Junior College signee — hurled eight innings and allowed five hits and three earned runs while striking out eight. Smalley didn’t keep Hattey on a pitch count like he normally does, but figured he threw approximately 130-140 pitches.

“(Hattey) won ball games for me in the past that were must-win situations even back when he was playing AA ball, and he told me, ‘We’re going to make it to State,’” Smalley said. “He knew right off the bat that he was going to go out there and give everything he had.

“I told him, ‘I want you to go until you can’t go anymore.’ With our pitching the way it is, we knew we were going to have to play to win that one game. We put all of our eggs in one basket to win the Saturday game moreso than the Friday game with the way the tournament was set up.”

The Majors were without two of their top pitchers — Brennon Dearinger and Lane White, who has struggled with a stress fracture in his elbow. In addition to the injuries, Stillwater recently had a stretch of eight games which were canceled either due to rain or scheduling conflicts.

The Legionnaires even tried scheduling contests with some AAA clubs, but their seasons had already ended.

“It was tough because all we could do was practice in between,” Smalley said. “It got to a point where we couldn’t play a game and when we did, it was a matter of getting everybody into the ball game or pitching multiple pitchers just to get them innings.”

Despite winning just 26 percent of their games this summer, the Majors will be one of eight squads competing for a state title this week at David Allen Memorial Ballpark in Enid. The bracket is expected to be released today.

Stillwater, which will likely be the No. 8 seed, is appearing at State for the sixth time since 2000 and has defeated four of the teams that are in the field including Lawton and Edmond.

“Those guys are pretty fired up,” Smalley said. “You just never know.”

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