Lady Horns open 4A State Tournament against Bristow

Beau Bearden

Numbers don’t lie when it comes to separating the top squads from everyone else.

All it takes is a quick glance at the Lone Grove High School softball team to see why its ranked No. 1 in Class 4A. The Lady Horns cruised to a 30-2 overall record, highlighted by a perfect 12-0 mark in District 4A-2 and a regional title.

However, every squad now has a clean slate for the 4A State Tournament, which kicks off at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15 when the top-seeded Lady Horns take on Bristow at USA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.

“We have a really good team this year,” said Lone Grove head coach Jimmy Miller. “We were able to score a lot of runs, play good defense and, of course, Emmy (Guthrie) pitched well. We have a really good shot and everything, but we still have to go play well. And hope you get a few bounces and things go your way.”

The Lady Horns will have experience on their side though, led by seniors Kylie Bangert, Emily Burns, Noa Dodson, Emmy Guthrie, Kali Henry and Braley Kott. Five of the six were on Lone Grove’s state-runner up squad in 2017 and that should pay dividends.

“Experience definitely helps when you’re going to the state tournament because I know the nerves really got the best of me during my freshman year,” Guthrie said. “But being (at state) for the fourth time, we’re able to really talk to the freshmen and the underclassmen. We can say, ‘If you make a mistake, it’s OK. You don’t have to worry about it. Just play like it’s a normal game.’”

That’s been the motto all season and it won’t change as the Lady Horns look to play three games in three days, with the championship set for noon Saturday.

“We really feel like this is our year," Dodson said. "But we have to just keep into the mentality that we’re good enough to be there and not get nervous."

But one thing that helps with nerves is making improvements in certain areas. There’s no guarantee it always pays off, but Lone Grove believes its prepared for this moment.

“I think mental and physical development has helped a lot and it’s progressed from my freshman year — not just for me, but for my team, also,” Guthrie said. “Mentally, I think we’re so much more competitive and we want it more than we ever have. And physically, we’ve gotten stronger. We’ve worked hard in the offseason and we’ve gotten bigger.”

And the proof is in the Lady Horns’ domination this season, led by a balanced attack at the plate and on the field. It hasn’t been one or two athletes either, as all nine starters and even substitutes have made contributions.

However, pitching is important in the postseason and Guthrie has been tough to figure out. She has struck out 258 batters this season, highlighted by a perfect game with 15 strikeouts on Aug. 22 against Red Oak.

“It definitely makes our job a little bit easier — honestly it’s a confidence boost to have (Emmy) in the circle,” Dodson said. “She’s just so good. Most of the pitches that batters hit off of her aren’t that hard because they usually can’t get on time with the ball.”

Only time will tell how if a squad can figure Guthrie out, but one thing is for sure — it’s now or never for six Lady Horns.

“This is it for those seniors,” Miller said. “They’ve had high expectations for them all through high school. This is their chance to go get it done. They’re excited about it and ready to go.”