VERDIGRIS — Although only a freshman, Evie Lemery displayed the poise of a seasoned veteran.
As she prepared for what she hoped to be the pitch that clinched the Lady Cardinals’ berth to the Class 4A state tournament, cheers erupted throughout the bleachers of the Verdigris diamond.
The Lady Cardinal faithful continuously chanted “Evie! Evie! Evie!” before breaking into a unified clap as Berryhill’s Kinley Green stepped up to the plate facing a 2-2 count.
Lemery’s pitch resulted in a dropped third strike, but it made no difference to the impending outcome.
Catcher Presley Tipton collected the loose ball and tagged Green before she could react, simultaneously ending the game and sending Verdigris to its first state tournament appearance since 2018 — and first in the Class 4A ranks — with a 6-4 victory over Berryhill in the Regional 6 championship Friday.
“It’s good for this program because I always wanted this program to be as successful as baseball,” said Lady Cardinals coach Brian Keith, who is also the baseball coach. “The last couple of years we struggled a little bit and had some opportunities to get there but came up short, but this team with that freshman pitcher in the circle is a gritty bunch. We’ve been down in some big games and came back and won. This group’s got a lot of fight in them.”
“That freshman” Keith was referring to was none other than Lemery.
A sensation in the circle all season, the right-hander finished with six strikeouts on 113 pitches through seven innings while surrendering six hits and four walks.
Lemery was speechless after the game, but Keith had plenty of praise for his young pitcher.
“I knew this group had a chance to get to the state tournament,” Keith said. “We had seven returning starters coming back, and we lost our pitcher, but we got this freshman pitcher. She’s just a 14-year-old kid, but boy she’s a warrior on that mound. We rode her all year long, and that’s where this game starts is in the circle. She was phenomenal for us. I seen her in a junior high capacity, and I knew she had the potential to be good for us.
“The thing about her is she’s just got such a good presence about her and a good resolve. It’s hard to shake her. She stays even-keeled, and she’s a competitive dude in that circle.”
Her resolve was on full display in the final three innings.
Lemery surrendered three hits — two of which her doubles — and two walks in the fourth, resulting in the Maiden taking a 4-2 lead.
She could’ve easily given in to the pressure and spiraled from there, but she did the opposite of that. Instead, Lemery allowed only one hit through the remaining 11 at-bats.
She said her faith in her teammates allowed her to regain composure after the rough innings.
“I just knew my team would come through and get some hits and stuff,” Lemery said. “I knew they had my back and that they were going to go hit and score.”
With Lemery keeping Berryhill off the bases, the Verdigris offense made its move in the sixth.
Emma West started the rally by scoring Rhyan Waltonbaugh with an RBI bunt single, and Bailey Cravens, who led Verdigris at the plate with two of the team’s seven hits, drove in Becca Manahl two at-bats later to tie the game at 4.
Then it was West’s turn again. The junior stole home one pitch later for the go-ahead run, which also served as the defacto game-winner.
“I knew that we definitely needed to score so that we had momentum to come back and take the lead,” West said. “It was very exciting being the one to score and knowing that they were cheering and having my back. I was a little nervous, but I knew our team would come together and come back because we always do.”
The Maiden (26-7) opened the scoring in the first on a single to left field from Emma Atkinson, but that lead was short-lived.
Daeya Moses answered in the third with a two-run home run over the right-field wall, giving the Lady Cardinals a 2-1 advantage that they held until Berryhill’s rally in the fourth.
Verdigris (32-4) also trailed the Maiden during Thursday’s regional semifinals but overcame a first-inning two-run homer to claim a 7-3 victory.
Tipton drove in two runs during the comeback via a groundout and a 2-RBI double, the latter of which broke a 2-all tie in the fifth and put the Lady Cardinals in front 4-2. Grayce Taylor, who led the team with three hits, set up Tipton’s game-winner two at-bats prior with a single, scoring Cravens.
Moses and Waltonbaugh managed multiple hits as well with two apiece as part of the team’s 10-hit effort.
Verdigris scored two more runs in the fifth when Waltonbaugh singled in Taylor and Tipton stole home, pushing the lead to 6-2. Moses scored the final run on a sacrifice fly from Manahl in the sixth.
Lemery earned the win with six strikeouts despite allowing nine hits on 116 pitches through seven innings.
The Lady Cardinals’ first-round matchup against Idabel was much less dramatic, for they led 4-0 after one inning and increased that advantage to 13-0 by the end of the third en route to a 15-1 decision.
Verdigris racked up 11 hits in the win, with Taylor accounting her a home run and a double. Moses had a multibase hit as well with a triple while Taylor, Lemery, Tipton and Waltonbaugh all managed two hits.
Lemery was once again the winning pitcher for the Lady Cardinals, striking out seven while allowing two hits and three walks on 79 pitches through four innings. Emma Young emerged from the bullpen to throw one inning of relief.
Also notable was Verdigris’ 11 stolen bases, a category paced by Cravens who had three.
The Lady Cardinals don’t take the diamond again until Thursday at the USA Softball Hall of Fame Complex in Oklahoma City.
“It’s crazy,” West said of the opportunity. “I’ve played there before during comp ball, but this is to win something more than just a tournament. It’s the state tournament, and that’s really cool.”