Lady Pioneers ready to play spoiler at state tournament

Jimmy Gillispie/Stillwater News Press Stillwater High junior pitcher Makenzi Swick throws a pitch during a home game this fall. Stillwater will face Edmond Memorial at 4 p.m. Thursday at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex in Oklahoma City in the first round of the Class 6A state tournament.

When the Stillwater High softball team takes the field Thursday afternoon at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex in Oklahoma City, it will be the underdog against Edmond Memorial.

And, that’s not a role SHS coach Karie Linsenmeyer minds at all. In fact, she hopes her players embrace it for their 4 p.m. game on Field No. 4 at the Class 6A state tournament.

“I mean, we have nothing to lose,” Linsenmeyer said. “We shouldn’t go into that tight. We shouldn’t be there, according to record. Like I said all year, I thought that we underachieved at times and we were better than what we did a lot of times. I believe in them, but there’s no reason for them to be tight. Let’s just go play. We didn’t think we were going to be there, so go play.”

Stillwater (20-16) entered the postseason with a 15-15 record before upsetting Sand Springs at its own regional to earn its third state berth in four years. That might be where Stillwater has the advantage against the defending state champs.

Memorial (30-4) is headed to its second-straight state tournament after several years of posting a record near or below .500. Something clicked last year for the Lady Bulldogs and they won the championship.

“I know they won it last year, so I know that they are good,” Linsenmeyer said. “We haven’t played them in two years.”

Stillwater is just one of four 6A programs to reach three of the past four state tournaments, joining the company of Broken Arrow, Deer Creek and Osasso. Deer Creek has made three straight, while Owasso had advanced to at least four straight.

The Lady Pioneers went in 2017 and 2018, and this year’s run resembles the 2017 squad. They were 20-18 that season and surprised many by winning their regional.

In 2017, Stillwater upset Yukon in the state quarterfinals with a lopsided 10-2 victory. SHS was eliminated the next day in a 13-2 loss to Mustang.

Linsenmeyer is happy her team is headed back to state, but she gives the credit to her players for playing well at the right time each year they’ve advanced past regionals. She said their offseason work is a big reason why they’ve had success late in the season.

“It’s the girls doing the work,” Linsenmeyer said. “People have asked all the time about what the difference is between certain teams or going back to state every year. These girls have got to play travel ball and they’ve got to put in the work. They’ve got to do the extra.

“They have to do those things, because a lot of the bigger schools will be doing that, so that’s what we’ve got to have happen. We’ve got to have our kids playing lots of ball. We have some girls play high-level travel ball, and the more you see great pitching all of the time, the better you’re going to be.”

Entering the regional tournament, Stillwater was riding a five-game losing streak that cost it a chance to host a regional. SHS flipped momentum at Sand Springs and won four of five games.

Wanting to keep that momentum, Linsenmeyer scheduled a game against Carl Albert on Tuesday night at Couch Park. Stillwater won 8-2, but gained more experience and kept playing well following their regional title last Thursday night.

“They were a little relaxed and that’s OK,” Linsenmeyer said. “They’re having fun and I saw some good at-bats mentally. I knew their pitcher wasn’t going to overpower us or anything like that.

“There’s nothing better than game-like situations. No matter how hard you try sometimes in practice, it just isn’t the same thing. It was just a great opportunity to see live pitching and to get real balls off the bat. I think it’s a win-win situation for us.”

When the Lady Pioneers begin playing in OKC on Thursday, their coach hopes they enjoy the moment and play the style of softball that helped them reach that point. Their attitudes this week resemble a team that’s not stressed.

“I think we just have to play our ball,” Linsenmeyer said. “As much as we can learn about the teams that we’re playing, we’ll try to put it into practice and try to come up with a good game plan. The main thing is they have to be themselves.

“They’ve been very relaxed and happy. It’s been a little bit fun. There hasn’t been a whole lot of bad attitudes. They’re happy and they’re proud of themselves, and they should be.”

The winner of Stillwater and Memorial game will play either Shawnee or Owasso at 1:30 p.m. Friday.

Follow Jimmy Gillispie on Twitter @jgillispie_stw for updates from Stillwater’s state tournament.

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