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Claremore's Alyssa Poorboy throws a pitch against Sand Springs at the RSU Festival last fall.

For the first time in years, a hefty turnaround won’t be an issue for Claremore softball.

The Lady Zebras lost only one starter — Rylee Vanaman — from last year’s team that finished 21-14 and came within one game of the Class 5A state tournament. Add in the fact that senior leadership has grown from two players to six, and Claremore has plenty to be optimistic about this fall.

Ending the program’s seven-year state tournament drought is a realistic goal for coach Keeli Garroutte and her experienced group.

“It’s kind of exciting to not have a lot of turnover,” Garroutte said. “From year to year for several years in a row, we had several big turnovers and had to figure out where people would play and how they would fit. We’ll have two seniors on the field — Alyssa Poorboy and Terran Schornick — and they both played close to all four years if not all four years. And they’re both in big-time positions — we have one in the circle (Poorboy) and one in the center field (Schornick). I look for them to definitely lead us and help us out in that area.

“Hailey Barnes will probably be in the outfield; she’ll have a role somewhere out there. She’s ran bases the past couple of years and played a utility role a little bit.”

The Lady Zebras also have a solid group of juniors in Jadyn Muns, Julia Hoffman, Maddox Thomas and Paiten Reavis who all played last season and are looking to contribute their talent once again in 2020.

Garroutte said though starting roles aren’t guaranteed and must be earned, her team returns a total of eight players who will be familiar with their positions thanks to ample playtime on varsity a year ago.

“After adding in some freshman who are going to help us out in the circle and some other people who will play roles, we don’t have any excuse not to be better than we were last year,” Garroutte said. “When you look at our lineup, it’s going to be just about the same lineup. I’m optimistic that we’ll have a good year.

Key Question: Will underclassmen be ready to contribute in the circle?

One issue Claremore faces is pitching depth.

Poorboy will handle a bulk of the throwing duties much like last year when she struck out 75 batters through 162 innings, but she will occasionally need rest to recuperate her arm.

Muns is one safe option, for Garroutte looked to her several times last season, including in the regional tournament. Hoffman also saw some time in the circle.

However, the fifth-year coach is curious about some of the incoming freshmen’s abilities.

“It’s kind of hard to tell in practice, especially when we’ve only practiced a few times,” Garroutte said of their varsity readiness. “We’ve got a girl coming in from the junior high, and we also have one coming in from Justus, and they’ve both thrown, so I’m excited to see how they fit in. A lot of people do rely on one arm, but if you can mix in other arms, it definitely helps save your one. It’ll give us more looks and more balance because not having pitching depth is scary. If one person gets hurt, you’re kind of done for.

Key Series: Pryor. The Lady Zebras haven’t fared well against the Tigerettes in quite some time.

Claremore is 0-13 against Pryor since securing an 8-0 win on Sept. 12, 2013. That is nearly seven years without a victory against its biggest rival.

Will 2020 be the year the Lady Zebras finally end that nightmarish losing streak?

“We want to go beat Pryor,” Garroutte said. “We’ve been getting beat up by Pryor year after year, and I know I’m sick of it, and they are too. They got closer last year and put together some closer games, but we still haven’t managed to get a W. I’d love that for them, to be able to go beat them.

“Anybody we can step on the field and beat is good, but Pryor is close.”

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