It took 63 outs and three-straight wins on Thursday to get the Claremore Lady Zebras their first regional championship since 2008.
Claremore senior centerfielder Madison Bright scored the game-winning run in the if-necessary game after ripping a triple in the bottom of the third inning to the left field corner of the outfield.
Bright’s speed around the bases, followed up by a wild pitch from McAlester’s Cheyenne Selmon, allowed the future Iowa State player to slide in head first at home plate for the most important run of the 2013 season.
Aided by strong pitching from Claremore seniors Kaylee Bart and Ally Johnson, the Lady Zebras punched their ticket to the Class 5A State Tournament with the 1-0 win over McAlester.
It’s been 10 years since the Lady Zebras last brought home a state championship in softball. And, come Thursday, this group of seven seniors and their teammates will try to add another sticker to the wall in the opening round of the state tournament in Shawnee.
“You can’t say enough about this team and the way they fought for that regional championship,” Claremore head coach Jim Sherl said. “You could tell after beating Skiatook and then McAlester earlier in the day, that there wasn’t any way this team would be denied in that final game.”
After going 1-1 in the first two regional games Wednesday, the Lady Zebras needed three straight wins in order to keep their season alive.
“It took a lot of heart out there, and a lot of determination to accomplish one of our main goals this season,” Sherl said. “After Wednesday, we basically told the girls that they have a choice to make ... ‘You can show up and go get three straight wins with the right attitude, or you can just go through the motions and let either Skiatook or McAlester take it away from you.’”
The Lady Zebras made a statement and proved to be the last one standing with a lot of excitement following Sarah Brown’s 6-3 putout on Whitney Garner’s groundball in the bottom of the seventh inning for the final out.
“Time after time, our defense backed up our pitchers with a lot of big-game plays,” Sherl said. “To turn that double play in the top of the sixth inning, and then get out of a bases loaded jam in the fifth was huge.”
McAlester had an opportunity in the fifth inning — with the bases loaded — to tie the game, but the rotation of pitchers Bart, Ally Johnson and then back to Bart paid off with a pop out to Claremore catcher Hailey Seago by Bailey Dockins.
“When they (McAlester) got their first two runners on, there was no question that we were going to put on their best hitter (Cheyenne) Selmon,” Sherl said. “She proved throughout the regional to be a power hitter that could change the outcome of the game in a hurry.”
Selmon, in three at-bats of the if-necessary game, never saw a strike from either Bart or Johnson. She did record a 6-3 putout in Game 6.
Claremore’s Bart and Johnson combined for six strikeouts in the regional championship to seal the trip to state.