OKLAHOMA CITY – It had been five years since Navajo had been to the state tournament. No player on the current slow-pitch roster had had ever experienced what it means to play on the sport’s biggest stage.
So when the seventh-ranked Indians traveled to ASA Hall of Fame Stadium on Wednesday for the first round of the 3A state slow-pitch championships, it should not have been a surprise that inexperience reared its head in a 5-1 loss to No. 2 Wister.
“We played well,” Coach Terry Gilbert said. “We just hit balls right at them at times. We couldn’t get balls to fall in. They got a few breaks and it didn’t seem like we would get any breaks.”
Despite the season ending sooner than they would have like, the Navajo High School players were not disappointed in the year overall.
“We played hard this season,” Senior Tiny Booker said. “We had the dream to be here and we did. We brought it. I think we played good (Wednesday), but we could have done harder. But I’m happy.”
The Wildcats came out swinging in the top of the first inning. They quickly put two runs on the board before the Navajo faithful had even settled into their seats.
The Indians tried to strike back in the top of the second inning when they had runners on first and second and two outs. Cambrie Thorton came to the plate with a chance to cut into the deficit or give NHS the lead. But the junior flew out to centerfield to end the inning. Many of the Indians at bats ended in the same discouraging manner.
“It was a little frustrating for me because I never really got to get on base because they caught everything,” Booker said. “It’s the game. It happens. They are good.”
Wister made Navajo pay for missing out on the scoring opportunity. In the top of the third Wister High School’s Jamie Lynn drove a single to left to drive in a run. Cailey Yochum then hit a pop fly that was misplayed by the Navajo defense. It scored another run to give the Wildcats a 4-0 advantage.
The Indians finally got on the board in the bottom of the fifth on a Karlee McCombs RBI.
But Wister answered back in the top of the seventh with a run to push the lead back to four runs.
The Indians had one last chance to strike. They had two runners on base and two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Thorton came to bat and hit a line drive down the left field line that looked like it had a chance to fall in. But once again, Wister was there to make the catch and end the game.
“It’s a big field,” Gilbert said. “Outfielders play a little bit different on these big fields. It’s kind of hard to adjust. And we just hit fly balls right at them. Balls that are out of our ball park are just caught here. We just have to adjust next year when we get back here.”
Navajo ends the year with a 19-10 record. The loss also meant the end of the high school career for their six seniors. But according to Senior Taylor Harrison, they have left a foundation for the underclassmen.
“I love the senior class,” Harrison said. “I think we left leadership. I hope they take what we’ve done throughout this season and keep carrying it on.”
Reach Michael Kinney at firstname.lastname@example.org.