SHAWNEE — Even amongst the deafening cheers coming from just a few feet away, Emma Gill remained calm.
The vocal Oologah faithful chanted relentlessly.
“Four! Four! Four! Four!”
Again, again and again. Louder and louder.
“FOUR! FOUR! FOUR! FOUR!”
Still, no reaction from Gill, who wears No. 4 for the Lady Mustangs.
“I zone everything out,” Gill said. “I just concentrate, and I really don’t hear anything. I’ll ask my teammates, ‘Why don’t you guys ever cheer for me?’ and they’re like, ‘We do.’
“I found out early that I tune out everything and just focus on the pitch.”
Despite her seemingly stoic appearance, the moment was not lost on her.
With the game tied at 1 in the bottom of the sixth and Kenzie Chacon already on first base, Gill knew this was her team’s best chance to reach the final four of Class 4A.
And she delivered.
The senior blasted a double off the right-field wall to put Oologah in scoring position, and she and Chacon went on to score the game-winning runs on an error, leading the Lady Mustangs to the state semifinals with a 3-1 victory over Lone Grove on Field 2 at the FireLake Ballfields in Shawnee on Thursday night.
The Lady Mustangs play Newcastle at 1:30 p.m. today.
“Throughout the season, when I’ve been the most successful is when I calm down and really focus on the laces of the ball,” Gill said. “When seeing the pitch, you have to see it to hit it. I focused in, watched it out of her hand and did my best. That’s all my team can ask, and that’s all I can give them — my best.”
Lone Grove pitcher Emmy Guthrie nearly spoiled the momentous moment, though.
After allowing runners on second and third with no outs, Guthrie quickly recovered and struck out the next two batters.
With the once promising situation looking dire, Hadley Calico stepped up to the plate.
She was already 0-for-2 with a strikeout, but it was up to her to save the inning, and she knew it.
However, she faced an 0-2 count after only two pitches.
Calico put the ball in play on pitch No. 4, but it was a groundball to the shortstop ¬— a routine out for the Lady Horns.
“I was definitely frustrated because I hate grounding out,” Calico said. “But I knew in that moment that I was definitely going to run it out and give it my all.”
It is a good thing she did.
In a fortunate turn of events, the ball sailed past the first baseman, giving Chacon and Gill ample time to reach home.
Guthrie struck out 13 while allowing five hits through six innings.
Oologah coach Jason Brown said his team’s unnerving determination was the deciding factor.
“We talk all the time about the girls being hard girls,” Brown said. “Once you get to this stage, everybody is talented, every team. We talk about them being resilient and strong and having great leadership and great character, and I think in these types of games, that carries you over the top.”
Gill’s impact was felt behind the plate as well.
She made a potentially game-saving tag at home after a Paige Anderson bunt. A score would’ve given the Lady Horns a 2-1 lead with only one out.
Gill endured a similar situation during the regional tournament against Bristow in which she dropped the ball and didn’t make the tag, leading to a 4-3 loss.
Her confidence never wavered, though, and she was prepared this time around.
“In that moment, I was just like, ‘I can do this, I can do this, I can do this,’” Gill said. “I knew I was ready for it, Bailie (Runner) made a great toss and I just stuck it.”
Elsewhere, Chacon had herself quite the game in the circle.
She lasted all seven innings, striking out six while allowing seven hits, but her most impressive feat came after a detrimental play in the fifth inning.
Chacon surrendered an RBI triple to Logan Ketchum that tied the game, but she didn’t get to a 19-2 record by giving up when things don’t go her way.
She struck out two after that, and though the Lady Horns managed two more hits, Chacon never felt as if she wasn’t in control.
“I got more time,” Chacon said. “I kept working and got more time. I’m going to give up a few hits here and there. It’s the state tournament — it happens.”