The realization that Ardmore is closing in on hosting a regional tournament for the first time in 13 years began to set in for fifth-year Lady Tigers coach Charli Crawford when she and her sister, junior pitcher Lexi Duff, embraced with a hug near the pitcher’s circle.
The emotions of joy remained present on Crawford’s face as she walked to the outfield for the postgame talk after her Lady Tigers defeated the Noble Lady Bears 4-2 on Tuesday afternoon at Valero Park.
The Lady Tigers now understand that it would take a miracle for any team to leapfrog them unseat them in the second spot in the District 5A-2 standings.
With a win Thursday at Lawton MacArthur, Ardmore would officially clinch.
“It’s been a long five years coming to get to this point,” Crawford said. “It’s just awesome to see the work pay off that they have put in.”
Ardmore (16-7 overall, 10-1 District 5A-2) had to work a little harder Tuesday to earn the victory than Aug. 18 when it defeated Noble (10-12, 6-3) 14-4 in the team’s first meeting of the season.
Lady Bears pitcher Savannah Long was perhaps the biggest reason this week’s contest was much closer.
After allowing 16 hits and 14 runs on her home field in mid-August, she more than atoned for that performance Tuesday.
The Lady Tigers squeezed out four runs and five hits off the right-hander.
“I knew that Savannah was going to throw better tonight,” Crawford said. “She had a rough night against us when we went to Noble. So, I knew tonight that she was going to be on her game. She is a good pitcher. I was just proud of our girls for scratching and clawing and getting runs in any way that we could.”
Long was outdone by her counterpart in the circle, Duff, as well as by a pair of freshmen for Ardmore.
In the home half of the second, Makila Case lined a single with two outs into center field to plate another freshman, Lauren Blankenship, who drew a walk, to put the Lady Tigers ahead 1-0.
A pair of errors committed by Ardmore in the top of the fourth allowed Noble to gain its first lead of the afternoon at 2-1.
Blankenship’s instincts running the bases allowed the Lady Tigers to regain the momentum in the home half of the fourth.
After she singled up the middle, Blankenship then somehow managed to elude the tag by Noble second baseman Hannah Sendelbach on a grounder hit by Haley Long.
Long was safe at first base.
Blankenship later scored on a passed ball to tie the score at 2-2.
“I was just like, ‘If I don’t slide, I’m going to get in trouble,’” she said. “So, I just slid and somehow avoided the tag.”
Blankenship’s biggest display of handling the pressure at the varsity level came in the fifth — she blooped an RBI double into left field to put Ardmore ahead 3-2.
“She’s had to do that a lot this year, come through like that for us,” Duff said. “It’s like expected now from her. I don’t think it’s pressure for her anymore.”
Morgan Chavez added an insurance run for the Lady Tigers in the sixth on a hard grounder that somehow eluded the reach of a Noble infielder.
“I was surprised but also grateful for it because you’ve just got to do things with situational hitting,” she said. “Our lineup, one through nine, is very strong. No matter who is up to bat, we always know that somebody is going to do something big.”
Duff retired the side in order in the top of the seventh, preserving Ardmore’s 10th consecutive victory in district play. She finished the game with 11 strikeouts to one walk and three hits.