Progress Sports Correspondent

The Claremore Lady Zebra softball team party-crashed the Class 5A high school state tournament showcase last week in Oklahoma City.

The girls didn't get to stay around and waltz to the closing number, but they certainly proved they had the right to get on the dance floor.

Midwest City Albert was crowned "Queen of the Ball," but the Lady Titans had to stop Claremore twice to do it.

The Claremore girls came up a bit short this time, but the future appears to be full of glass slippers.

All but one player from this year's squad are expected to return for the 2007 fall fastpitch season. Abby Kross-Vincent is this year's lone senior. Also a new head coach will be in charge when the Zebras start back up.

Coach Tony Winefield announced before the season that he would step down at the conclusion of his fifth year.

In the program for the past 13 years, the coach said it was time to quit.

"We just finished a great season and the girls are going to get even better," Winefield said Monday. "Our three starting juniors will be back as senior leaders and our sophomores and freshmen will be a year older."

Claremore finished with a 26-20 record after upsetting No. 5 Catoosa for a regional championship and then splitting four games at the state tournament.

Because they were the lowest ranked team to reach state, the Lady Zebras were pitted against No. 1 Carl Albert in the opening contest Thursday. It took two extra innings before the favorite won, 2-0.

Claremore fought back to dump Skiatook, 4-3, later the same day and stopped Duncan, 6-5, in 10 innings on Friday.

Following their second extra-inning outing im less than 24 hours, Claremore faced Albert again. The Lady Titans won, 5-0, to advance to Saturday's championship contest where they defeated No. 2 Bixby, 5-2.

"We beat some highly regarded teams this year and at other times we lost to some schools we probably shouldn't have," Winfield said. "But as is typical with Claremore in the past, the girls continued to improve and get better toward the playoffs. I am so proud of what they were able to do."

In his decision to resign, Winefield said he is doing what is best for both he and the team.

"It is time to step aside. I'm older and it takes a lot of work to coach right," he said. "I'm tired and I just cannot give the job full attention. I thought about doing it last year. That's why I earlier told the girls

my decision. I didn't want to hit them with a bombshell. I will continue to teach and maybe even coach again, but for now, someone else needs to step in."

The next coach should field a solid team. Claremore will be highly regarded in '07 due to the returning players. Unlike this year when several holes in key positions had to be filled, this should not be a problem.

Bailey Winters and D.J. Simpson return at second base and shortstop while Brittany Tull will be back to patrol center field. Batting in the top three slots, each will be a senior.

The pitching staff will return starters Keeli Garroutte, Erin Glover and Brittany Scott. Starting first baseman Whitney Hocutt can also pitch, if needed. All four earned starting roles this season as sophomores.

Tiffany Chanley was pushed into the catcher's position. As a freshman, she made the usual early mistakes, but continued to improve with each outing. By season's end, she was one of the most improved players on the team.

The school will not be in a hurry to name a new softball coach.

Brenda Reavis, secretary to Claremore athletic director Randy Pearson and speaking on his behalf, said Monday that no replacement is being sought immediately.

"No action will be taken until coach Winefield actually submits a letter telling us he is resigning," she said. "Tony has made his plans known, but it is not official at this time. It may be spring before the reviewing board starts looking at resumes."

Asked if Winefield's assistant coaches Jeff Faulconer and Randa Fay would be considered for the head coaching position, Reavis said: "Both are certainly reliable and will be considered if they apply. But outside applications will also be taken."

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