Sports Sunday Correspondent
It’s official. It took more than 6 1/2 hours, and the playing of 18 pressure-packed innings, but it is official.
The 2-year-old Rogers County Rangers will be playing in the American Legion baseball state tournament for the second straight year.
Losing 6-5 to Bartlesville in the first of two games Friday night, the Rangers bounced back against Tahlequah, 5-4, to earn the right to move on.
The doubleheader at Legion Field came on the second night of a Majors Zone American Legion tournament.
The Rangers and Bartlesville played again Saturday night. Regardless of the outcome, both teams advance to the state tournament this week at Bartlesville.
Stepping to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, Jered Peper hit the first pitch to drive home two runs.
His winning single came after Tahlequah in the top half of the inning grabbed its first lead of the night.
The Rangers defeated Tahlequah's Oklahoma Bandits, 8-3, Thursday night, and the Rangers were trailing, 4-3, when they came to bat in the ninth. As was the case in Friday’s earlier game with Bartlesville, the Rangers held a considerable edge in the hitting department, but couldn't convert the advantage into runs.
For eight innings, it was a bulldog effort by starting lefthanders Scott Branch of the Rangers and the Bandits' Wayne Coldwell. Dodging trouble spots along the way, both ran into trouble in the final inning.
Cade McKuwen started Coldwell's downfall as he was struck by a pitch leading off the ninth. Justin Edwards followed with a single up the middle. Burned by a David Chester home run the night before, the Bandits decided to walk him this time.
Maybe a smart baseball move most of the time, but not this time.
Brad Shankle, the Bandit catcher up to this point, replaced Coldwell on the mound. His first serve to the plate was greeted by Peper's bat.
Ranger head coach Todd Bingham didn't hesitate waving the speedy Edwards around from second base. McKuwen, scoring the tying run from third, was at the plate waiting for him and the winning tally.
Despite a strong outing by Branch, the victory went to Matt Broadrick. With the one-run edge, Branch got a quick out to start the ninth. It would be his last.
He issued a walk to the next batter and then hit the third one. Both scored on a Greg Jackson single.
The Rangers were in danger of losing their second straight one-run game. A loss, and the season would be over.
Broadrick replaced Branch and ended any further damage by getting the final two outs on easy fly balls to the outfield.
This set the stage for the winning rally in the home half of the inning.
Talking about his players' attitudes going into the ninth, Bingham said: "I don't think they were worried at all. I was certainly frustrated at that point, but, no, the players knew they had it wrapped up."
Against Bartlesville, it was a case of too many walks issued (7) and errors (5) for the Rangers.
Four of the visitors' six runs were due to walks. The other two runs were attributed to a fielding miscue. The Rangers had 12 hits, to Bartlesville's five, and the Rangers left 10 runners on base.
One of the hits was a booming home run by Chester. He launched a shot that cleared the left field fence and the tree behind it. The ball landed on the roof of a house a block away.
The three-run homer in the third, Chester's ninth, tied the game. The Rangers went ahead, 4-3, an inning later when Nick Ward tripled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Vincent Pironti.
Bartlesville, 35-12, answered with single runs in the next three innings.
The Rangers climbed to 22-12. Tahlequah closed out at 18-17.
BARTLESVILLE 6, RANGERS 5
Bartlesville 210 011 100 — 6 5 2
Rogers County 003 100 010 — 5 12 5
Clement, Garrett (7), Neptune (9) and Kelton. Moss, Cherry (1), Peper (2) and Ward. W — Clement. L — Peper (3-4). Save — Neptune. HR — Rogers County, Chester (9).
RANGERS 5, TAHLEQUAH 4
Tahlequah 000 100 102 — 4 6 2
Rogers County 010 002 002 — 5 11 2
Coldwell, Shankle (9) and Shankle, Thompson (9). Branch, Broadrick (9) and Kennedy. W — Broadrick (2-0) L — Coldwell.