Coaches Deej Ramirez, Brian Sheffield and Greg Nunley knew what they would be up against.
It was regional championship baseball in Durant where some of the toughest teams from the State of Oklahoma would be competing for a chance to advance to the state championship tournament. It was supposed to be difficult.
A scheduling error put them in this tournament — one of the more difficult tournaments for region play in the state. The team had to travel three and one-half hours to get there and they had to be there and ready to play by 1 p.m. that same day.
It never mattered to the Warriors who they played or what time they played. All that mattered is that they were there in Durant competing for a chance to go to state and that they were still playing the game they love deep into the summer.
Any youngster who loves baseball dreams of these moments and here were the Warriors, far from their tiny little town of Tipton with the odds stacked against them.
Game one of the tournament saw them facing the Coalgate Wildcats. The game started off rough for the Warriors as they gave up three runs and fell behind early. Ramirez took a chance on a pitching change and it payed off.
It did not take long for the team to rally and make the game competitive, outscoring and defeating the Wildcats to win the game with a score of 10-8.
The team did not get long to enjoy their hard-fought victory. Later that same evening, they would be facing off against the Latta Panthers. A win against the Panthers would give them a day off Wednesday.
Maybe the day off was incentive enough and maybe the Warriors were just the much better team, but one thing was for sure, the Warriors lit up the scoreboard. They held a 10-0 lead by the fourth inning and though they never scored again, they also never gave up a run.
The win gave the Warriors a day off and they spent it at the The Splash at Fairvew Park in Sherman, Texas, for a day of relaxation and fun before they faced off against an undefeated Durant Lions team.
On Thursday, the Warriors took the field against the Lions. The game against the Lions was no gimme. Coming into this game, the Lions had not lost all season and they battled back from a 5-1 defecit to pull within one by the top of the fifth inning. The Warriors stepped on the gas and surged to a 9-4 advantage by the time the Lions had another chance to bat. The game ended in the Warriors favor by a score of 9-8 and sent the Warriors on to the semifinals against the Stigler Pirates.
Unfortunately, the Warriors came out flat against a very good Pirates team and recorded their first loss of the tournament by a score of 10-3. The loss put the Warriors in the loser bracket against the Lions.
The Lions were looking to redeem themselves from their earlier loss to the Warriors in a loser-goes-home contest. Fortunately for the Warriors, they were once more on their game and sent the Lions packing with a 4-2 win.
The win put the Warriors in the championship game against the only team to beat them so far, the Stigler Pirates.
A rain delay kept the Warriors and the Pirates off the field until Saturday at 6 p.m. The coaches played “work-up” with the kids to keep them motivated and warm until the game began.
The championship game was much closer than the previous contest and the Warriors did everything they could to take the championship. The game was tied 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth inning and the Pirates were up to bat with two outs and a player on third base.
The Warriors had their ace on the mound, prepared to put the upcoming batter away and try to win it when they got their chance to bat. Unfortunately, a wild pitch put Stigler up 3-2 to win the game and advance to the state championship.
It was not a loss for Ramirez and his team. If anything, he sees it as a statement to others.
“I had one of the best times of my life this last week,” Ramirez said. “Teams around the state now know they better come ready to play ball when facing the Warriors. This year put us on the map.”
Ramirez’s Warriors ended the season 22-3, playing spectacular ball down the stretch and advancing further in this tournament than they ever had before. Just two years ago, they lost their first two games and were eliminated from competition early. Last year, they were 1-2. This year, they were 4-2, only being eliminated in the championship game.
Ramirez’s dedication to these players is so strong that he is leaving his job where he has worked for six years so that he can have more time off for the Warriors program. The Warriors may officially have lost the tournament, but they gained the respect of teams, coaches and fans of baseball in the State of Oklahoma.
Reach Ryan Lewis at 580-482-1221, ext. 2076.