Less than a year ago, the Ardmore Lady Tigers softball team was celebrating on its home field surrounded by fans and faculty alike after a dramatic walk-off hit by then sophomore Lauren Blankenship in the regional finals against Guthrie.

Less than a year ago, the Ardmore Lady Tigers softball team was celebrating on its home field surrounded by fans and faculty alike after a dramatic walk-off hit by then sophomore Lauren Blankenship in the regional finals against Guthrie.

The victory gave the Ardmore softball program its first state tournament berth since 2003, and the first under head coach Charli Crawford.

However, as the old saying goes “That’s in the past.”

As for the here and now, Ardmore will be returning multiple from last years state tournament roster, while being joined by a plethora of new talent.

The mix of experience and fresh faces does have coach Crawford excited for the upcoming season, and admitted that this season her players will have to overcome increased expectations. 

“Everyone has remained at a high level throughout the offseason,” Crawford said. “All around I’ve been pleasantly surprised during the summer with our hitting and our defense, as well as our pitching.” 

One of the big questions surrounding the Lady Tigers coming into the new season has been who will take the mound following the departure of All-State player Lexi Duff? 

Last season in her final journey as an Ardmore softball player, Duff finished with a 1.1 ERA with 313 strikeouts and 19 shutouts along with tossing five perfect games and nine no-hitters.

Instead of there being just one player tabbed with the job of stepping into the circle this season for Ardmore however, there’s going to be three Lady Tigers players showcasing their skills on the mound.

“Chole Pender will get some mound time this season for us,” Crawford said. “Freshman Savannah Marris is also going to be throwing some as well as sophomore Jacy Johnson. For us it’s going to be about game planning when it comes to our pitching. We tend to look at a lot of things and it’ll be a case of whoever fits that situation best against that particular team is who we will go with.”

In addition to the graduation of Duff, Ardmore also graduated Taegan Marris and Madisen Moore.

Returning though this season for the Lady Tigers will be several key players off of last years team, including Pender, Blankenship, as well Avery Lowe, Shakira Smith, Kalie Douglas, and Emma Nightengale and Jaiden McCurley, who will be the only two seniors on the squad this season. 

“We’re still finding our voices as far as leadership goes,” Crawford said. “August 7th is going to be the first time we’ve all been on the field together this summer, since a lot of my girls play travel ball. Our junior and senior leadership is something you can’t put words on because it’s going to be so valuable to us this season.” 

Last season Smith was named as the District Newcomer of the Year, hitting .407 with a .452 on base percentage with 35 hits.

Nightengale was a second team outfield selection on the All-District awards list, as she hit .273 with an .819 fielding percentage.

Lowe finished her freshman season as a second team second baseman, and hit .271 with a fielding percentage of .849.

“We know we can make it back to the state tournament this season,” Lowe said. “We’re just going to have to work hard. It’s a huge benefit having so many players back with experience, and we all need to put in the work if we’re going to get back there (state) again.” 

As for Pender, she totaled 43 hits with 19 RBI’s while totaling a batting average of .417. 

“I feel like expectations for this season are for us to be intense, but to have good communication,” Pender said. “We know how to get to the state tournament, and we know what it takes to make it happen. As the season goes on, I feel like a lot of our underclassmen are going to develop and get stronger, which is only going to make us a better team in the end.” 

Blankenship was a first team selection at first base on the All-District awards last season. She hit .526 with 33 RBI’s 51 hits and five home runs. 

“The stakes are pretty high for us this season,” Blankenship said. “Everyone expects us to make it back to state this year. It’s a huge benefit having so many girls back from last years team. We’re able to hold each other accountable and work harder so the underclassmen can get to experience what state is like this season.”

Ardmore will have to navigate its way through a tough district this season which includes Altus, Duncan, Lawton Eisenhower, Lawton MacArthur, Piedmont and Santa Fe South.

Piedmont was the only other team out of district 2-5A to make the state tournament last season.

Ardmore finished the year with an overall record of 23-12 in 2017-18. 

The Lady Tigers will open the season on August 7 at home against Lexington before going to the Tuttle Tournament on August 9-11 at Firelake Casino in Shawnee.