With seven starters back from last year’s state championship squad, the Morrison High fast-pitch team is aiming to repeat history this weekend.
The only caveat is Morrison won’t be underestimated this year.
When No. 2-ranked Morrison (31-2) plays No. 7 Sterling (32-6) in the Class A state tournament opener at 11 a.m. Thursday at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium Field No. 3 in Oklahoma City, it will be the hunted instead of being the hunter, as it was last year.
Yet, Morrison coach JT Freeman is downplaying any added motivation for teams at the state tournament.
“I don’t know if any of that means anything,” Freeman said. “Everybody playing this time of the year is really good. It’s about playing the right way, controlling the heartbeat and emotions, playing a good game and hopefully having one more run than your opponent. We’ve talked about having a target on our back this year, but at this time of the year, it’s about going out and executing smart softball.”
With the expected high temperature to be around 87 degrees Thursday, Freeman is happy his team will be playing the early game.
“I thought we might play second, but when I saw that bracket come out and saw we were playing first, I didn’t have any problems with it,” Freeman said. “It’s going to be pretty hot for October tomorrow, but it will be a little cooler in the morning. We won’t have to sit around and think about it all day. We’ll just get on the bus, say goodbye to folks and go play softball. I’m not disappointed at all that we’re getting the first game.”
He added the nerves will be there when the game starts, no matter what time his team plays. Freeman has tried to help his players understand this, because he said they played a bit tight the first inning or two in the opening game last year.
“I think there are a little bit of nerves and jitters,” Freeman said. “I told them again today, ‘If you don’t have a little bit of nervousness and butterflies, I don’t know that you’re human.’ That’s the battle tomorrow. When the first pitch happens, it’s another ball game that we need to hook up and compete in. I think the team that does a better job of controlling the heartbeat, like we talk about, in those big moments, I think will have more success.”
A year ago, the Morrison made history as a relative unknown at the state championship level.
In its first ever state tournament, Morrison imposed its will against all three opponents en route to the school’s first state title by any girls’ program. The Lady Wildcats did so by mercy-ruling Tushka, 12-2, in the championship game.
It was a very young Morrison team, but it was led by two seniors in pitcher Kaylyn Raper and catcher Jasmine Warriner. The batterymates were a huge part of the Lady Widcats’ title, but the other seven starters were big parts in Morrison ending the season on a 26-game winning streak.
Those seven players, along with another starter who was injured last year, have Morrison riding a 19-game winning streak heading into the state tournament. The Lady Wildcats last loss Aug. 22 to Class 6A Edmond Memorial, which won its district and boasts a 29-4 record. Their other loss was a 1-0 defeat Aug. 13 to Dale, which is ranked No. 2 in Class 2A.
“We’ve just practiced the last three days, just like we did last year,” Freeman said. “We’ve had three really good practices – really focused. I think the girls were excited and a little nervous, and ready to go.
“We’re just reviewing some small details and getting some cuts in. We never want to go through the motions, but we’re doing nothing new – just what we’ve been doing all year. We went over our scouting report for the opponent and tried to get better.”
Like most good softball teams, pitching has been a key part of Morrison’s success. Morrison has allowed only 25 runs in 32 of its 33 games. Edmond Memorial scored 14 in its win. The Lady Wildcats won 19 games by shut out.
Sophomore Hally Vaughn has thrown the majority of the innings for Morrison this fall, despite resting during the team’s two district contests. Layni Bosler has also pitched about 50 innings this year for the Lady Wildcats.
Vaughn will be in the circle to start Thursday, and Freeman trusts his sophomore hurler.
“It goes without saying, and most softball coaches would agree, the game begins and ends in the circle,” Freeman said. “If you’re not good in the circle and you don’t a strong pitcher, this game is pretty challenging. We’re blessed to have a pretty good pitcher in Hally. I’ve said this before and I’m thrilled to have such a bulldog competitor in the circle. Even when she doens’t have her best stuff, she is going to grind, compete and get outs, and she’s going to trust her defense is pretty good most days.”
The winner of the game will play the winner of No. 3 Ripley and No. 6 Mooreland at noon Friday in the state semifinals.