Year after year, Sidney McLaughlin has awaited the opportunity for Stillwater to host a fast-pitch softball regional.
It’s finally happening during her last postseason as a Lady Pioneer.
The senior catcher said her family has been active in Stillwater High’s softball program for about eight years, starting when her older sister played. During that timespan, Stillwater has never served as a regional site.
Now, as the Lady Pioneers prepare to welcome three fellow contenders to Couch Park for one of eight Class 6A regionals, McLaughlin recognizes the significance of this achievement for the community and her team.
“... We’ve always been kind of the underdog of 6A,” McLaughlin said. “So it’s been like, we’ve always had to fight for what we’ve gotten.”
This season, McLaughlin and the Lady Pioneers have turned their “underdog” team into the No. 1 seed in their bracket, allowing them to host for the first time since 2006. Stillwater starts regional play at noon Wednesday against fourth-seeded Del City at Couch Park.
Then the Lady Pioneers (24-10 overall, 13-1 District 6A-3) will compete against either second-seeded Norman North or third-seeded Bartlesville, teams that face each other at 2 p.m. Wednesday.
When the double-elimination regional concludes Thursday, only one of the four participants will advance to the state tournament. Stakes are high, and coach Karie Linsenmeyer isn’t underestimating any of the opponents. Del City enters the regional 6-26 overall and 0-14 in District 6A-4 play, but Linsenmeyer said she knows the Eagles have talented players.
Norman North (20-12, 7-7) finished the season as the fourth-place team in District 6A-4, and Bartlesville (19-14, 7-7) is ranked fifth in Stillwater’s district, which is stacked with other highly competitive programs such as Bixby and Jenks.
Whether the Lady Pioneers are competing against Del City, Norman North or Bartlesville, Linsenmeyer’s message remains the same.
“I think that we just have to worry about us,” Linsenmeyer said. “Keep them out of scoring position, pitch the ball well, score our runs when we get a chance; I think we’ll be OK.”
As the season progressed, the Lady Pioneers figured out the strategies that worked for them, feeding off one another’s successful at-bats and fortifying their defense as senior ace Makenzi Swick expanded her pitching arsenal.
With marquee wins piling up, their hopes of hosting a regional grew into a legitimate possibility.
In early September, Stillwater squeezed past Jenks 4-3 on the road. Eleven days later, the Lady Pioneers powered past Bixby 5-1 at home as Swick threw her 403rd career strikeout to set a Stillwater record.
By that point, Linsenmeyer realized Stillwater was basically guaranteed to host a regional, though she didn’t say that to her team, careful not to diminish motivation at the end of the season if the girls thought they had already achieved their goal.
But the Lady Pioneers could see what was happening, too. McLaughlin said the dream of hosting looked more realistic after they defeated Bixby, and then they won 8-2 at Bartlesville.
“When we finally beat Bartlesville, which put it set in stone, we were all super excited,” McLaughlin said. “It’s just a big deal for us.”
With the advantage of a home crowd, the Lady Pioneers are focused on maintaining enthusiasm in their dugout. McLaughlin said the upperclassmen have passed that message on to their younger teammates, who have responded well.
It’s an attitude the Lady Pioneers can take with them wherever they go, whether they’re starting regional play on their familiar field in Couch Park or possibly competing at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium for the state tournament.
“I think that was one of our senior class things we really were trying to get (going) this year,” McLaughlin said. “Because energy is always the winning team. … If you win the energy, you’re probably gonna win the game.”
Follow News Press sports reporter Hallie Hart on Twitter @halliehart for updates on the Stillwater High softball regional.