MOORE, Okla. —
It would be easy to make the Chickasha Junior High baseball team’s run in the Freshman Red Dirt Championship tournament sound unimpressive.
The team went 3-3 over three days in the tournament, failing to advance to Sunday’s games after losing twice to Mustang.
But I was there, and those that were at the Moore High School baseball field for the better part of eight hours Saturday know that there is a lot for that Fightin’ Chicks team to be proud of.
Chickasha beat Moore 2 to open the tournament, but got blown out by Mustang in game two Thursday, knocking them down to the loser’s bracket.
Facing elimination on Friday, Chickasha had to beat Carl Albert to make it to the weekend. The Chicks did so easily, winning a run-rule shortened game 10-2.
Alex Ingram pitched the complete game, and after Chickasha allowed one run each in the first and second innings, Carl Albert went scoreless for the rest of the game.
Chickasha’s first game Saturday was set to start just after noon. The sun was high and the temperatures were in the high 90s. The Chicks played a hard game against Moore’s A squad, eventually pulling out a 9-5 win after scoring the four go-ahead runs in the bottom of the sixth inning.
After six and a half innings of baseball, the Chicks had used three pitchers and drank a shocking amount of Gatorade and water, and then they realized: We have to do this two more times today just to continue.
And they were obviously tired. You couldn’t help but wonder whether they wanted it badly enough to put in a full effort in the second game, knowing that their reward was a third, exhausting game.
But they did. Chickasha came out against Bethany and started the game with three runs in the first inning and two in the second. Maybe they wanted to end it quickly by run-rule, so they could get a little rest between games.
Unfortunately, a couple of Bethany runs and a few mistakes and missed opportunities by Chickasha allowed the game to continue all the way through the two-hour game time limit, which meant they played another six full innings.
Brayden Belden, who had struggled throughout the summer to stay on the mound for very long, pitched all six innings, in what was his best performance of the summer. He battled through fatigue near the end of the game to keep Bethany in check, and his defense played well behind him.
Denver Calhoun had caught his second-straight game, donning his catcher’s gear in the heat for four hours, yet playing as hard as anyone on the field and remaining productive.
None of the Chicks who got on base got much rest. In typical Brad Gore style, Chickasha stole eleven bases in the game against Bethany in an attempt to score as many runs as possible and hopefully shorten the game. Only two times did the runner get caught.
Two down, one to go. Chickasha had won 10-2 over Bethany. I walked to my car between games to charge my phone for a few minutes, and passed the Bethany squad leaving the field. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team look quite so happy to lose and go home as they did.
That shows how difficult Chickasha’s task was. The heat, the number of games, the challenge was breaking teams to the point that they would rather lose and rest than play on knowing that their toughest game was ahead.
I don’t know whether the Chickasha players felt that way or not. But, I sat in the dugout the entire day, and none of them complained. None of them talked about wanting to leave. They just played on.
And if they were tired after the first game, they were running on fumes after the second. Waiting for them was Mustang, the team that had smacked the Chicks on Thursday and had been resting up all day while Chickasha labored on the field. They sure don’t make that loser’s bracket very easy.
A team with only ten players isn’t necessarily well-equipped to play three baseball games in a row. Gore had already used four pitchers, and needed to figure out who was going to face the well-rested Mustang squad that had always been favored to win the Moore side of the Red Dirt bracket.
So the Chicks went with a pitcher-by-committee system. Brandon Shumway started after pitching three relief innings in game one. After three innings, Logan Woodard, who started against Moore, pitched two innings of middle relief. Brock Henderson finished out the last two innings.
And Calhoun again suited up to catch. The team was gassed, and it showed. Even still, the Chicks put up a much better showing this time against Mustang, losing 4-1.
So that’s how the long day ended. There wasn’t a feeling of disappointment in the dugout afterward, and that’s what happens when you know you’ve done all you can. You accept the result.
The Chicks left everything they had on the field, and everyone recognized that. Gore told them how proud he was of them in his post-game speech. The coaches from Moore and Mustang came over to the dugout to congratulate them on their extraordinary effort.
It was just a summer league tournament, which is relatively unimportant. And it was just a 3-3 record, which is relatively unimpressive. But I know better, because I was there to see the effort the Chickasha Chicks gave Saturday. And it was an impressive effort, indeed.