By Todd Newville
The Newcastle Pacer
They might be young – really young. But, don’t let that fool you.
This year, Newcastle softball head coach Mike Crossley really likes what he sees from his troops heading into the season. For a team with nary a senior – not one, nada – Crossley is grinning from ear to ear because he knows when he has a winner.
“I think we are going to be really, really good this year and I am really excited about this group,” said Crossley, who was named to the Oklahoma High School Fast-Pitch Softball Coaches’ Association (OHSFPSCA) Hall of Fame in 2006. “We are awfully young. We have zero seniors – none.
“What we do have are one junior, nine sophomores, and 12 freshmen. It’s going to be a young bunch. But, they’re awfully talented. If opponents are going to beat us, they better beat us at the first (of the game.) Once we catch on to what we do, we’ll be tough to beat. I am really excited about them and they’re a fun group to coach.”
Without a good pitcher in fast-pitch softball, a team doesn’t stand a chance. However, this year’s Newcastle ball club boasts six girls who can toe the rubber, wind up and deliver the neon yellow spheroid with the best of them.
“McKenzie Wagoner will be a sophomore and she pitched quite a bit last year when Cerny went down with her injury,” said Crossley, referring to all-state pitcher Emily Cerny, who was sidelined with a broken arm. “Taryn O’Brien pitched for us last year in regionals and Terra Funk will be the lone junior on the team. Brianna Little starts at third base for us but she’s also a pitcher. Hannah Gentry is a sophomore and Grace Strange is a freshman who can also pitch for us.”
Last year, Newcastle went 31-9 and lost, 7-1, to Broken Bow in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament at the ASA Hall of Fame softball complex in Oklahoma City. Crossley has guided Newcastle to an astounding 24 state tournaments in his 29 years as head coach. Six times, the Racers have made the championship finals.
In 2014, the Racers finally won the Class 4A state title. On that team, Crossley had five girls who will be competing for the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (USAO) in Chickasha this year. Cerny left her mark on the Newcastle program with 70 wins and 801 career strikeouts. She will be at USAO along with former Newcastle shortstop Shyla Clouse, catcher Karmyn Pearn, center fielder Rylee Vandiver, and outfielder/first baseman Kindle Nelms.
“That group last year was a special group,” Crossley said. “They’re going to be missed, but they would be the first to tell you that the tradition carries on here. This year’s group is very talented and they’ll be battle-tested by the middle of the season because we have a really tough schedule.”
A stout, regimented summertime softball program keeps the Racers’ players in top-notch form. And, it makes Crossley’s job a whole lot easier, according to him.
“They do a lot in the summer time,” he said. “They play on some quality summer-ball teams, even though they are spread out. That makes my job easier when I bring them all together. There’s no slacking with these girls. They keep at it during the summers.”
Back in the 2000s, Crossley remembers his Racers competing for the state title four straight seasons. They lost in the championship game all four years. But, this year, Crossley thinks his young guns could bring another state championship home for the school’s trophy case.
“We went to the state finals four years in a row back then,” Crossley said. “We finally got that monkey off our backs in 2014. That was big for us because our program deserved that label of state champions. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I know when I’m going to have a good bunch.
“This group is going to be good! If you want to see some good softball, this team will show you some good softball. I’m really excited.”