By Todd Newville
The Newcastle Racers’ softball team is headed to the Class 4A state tournament once again – proving the Newcastle program’s credo of “tradition never graduates.” It has become the team’s calling card and head coach Mike Crossley is proving that the old winning habits won’t die within his program.
Newcastle (31-8) beat Pauls Valley, 2-1, in a thrilling, classic softball duel between two hungry teams desperately wanting a trip this weekend to the Class 4A OSSAA state tournament at the ASA Softball Hall of Fame complex in Oklahoma City.
“Every group is special in their own way,” said Crossley, who is taking his Racers to the state tournament for an incredible 25th time in his 30 years as head coach. “This is a young and exciting group. They earned it and they played hard to get there. Pauls Valley played a tough schedule the last two weeks and they were a great team this weekend. I was very concerned about them because I knew that they had been playing good softball.”
Newcastle was supposed to begin their regional last Thursday but the action was rained out and postponed until Friday. After feverish action by Crossley and his crew, the field was made playable by Friday morning.
But, the Racers had no problem on Friday in their first game against Chickasha, beating the Fighting Chicks, 8-0, with Taryn O’Brien in the pitcher’s circle. Oddly enough, Newcastle was the visiting team and hit first.
In the top of the first, Maebree Roberston walked and Brianna Little singled. Robertson would score on a passed ball. Kennedy Cook singled to right to score Little for a quick, 2-0, Newcastle lead. In the second inning, the Racers scored once when Anna Cox singled and was sacrificed to second by Destiny Donahue.
Brooklyne Brumley and Robertson then singled to load the bases. An infield error on Little’s grounder then scored Cox. In the top of the fourth, Brumley singled again and later came around to score on a single down the left field line by Taryn O’Brien, making it 4-0, Newcastle.
Chickasha tried to keep the Racers off-balance by lobbing the ball to the plate. But, it didn’t have any affect as Newcastle broke loose with four runs in the top of the seventh to secure the win. Cook singled with two out and stole second. Catcher Shannon Pursell walked and was replaced on base by pinch-runner Emma Strange. Cox reached on an infield hit toward second base to load the bases.
Donahue then hit a hot shot over the Chicks’ third baseman to score Cook. Then, the deciding blow was delivered by Brumley with a bases-loaded double that cleared the bases. Strange, Cox, and Donahue crossed the plate with the final runs – 8-0 victory for Newcastle.
In Friday’s game against Pauls Valley, once again (as determined by coin flip) the Racers were visitors on their home field. No problem, though, as they beat the Panthers, 4-3. Newcastle took an early 1-0 lead after two innings. Then, they scored three in the top of the fifth.
Brianna Little started things off with an opposite field single down the left field line. O’Brien doubled solidly off the 225-mark in left center to score Little. Wagoner then BLASTED a two-run homer off the scoreboard that could be heard without a doubt! It was 4-0 at that point for the Racers.
The Panthers responded with two runs in the bottom of the fifth and tried to win with one run in the bottom of the seventh. But, the stage was set for Saturday’s championship. First, Pauls Valley had to beat Elk City, 11-5, in the 1 p.m. game.
This time, Newcastle was home team and scored once in the bottom of the first thanks to Cook’s single to right that plate O’Brien for a 1-0 lead. After Pauls Valley scored a run in the top of the fourth, Donahue blasted a triple to right center and came around on the game-winning hit by Pursell to left field to make the final margin, 2-1, in favor of Newcastle and their ticket to the state tournament.
“This feels pretty great,” Pursell said. “I think we’ll do pretty well. I think we have a chance at winning it all. From the beginning of the year to now, we’ve gotten a lot better. We’ve kept improving and we keep battling. We are a young team. The older we get, we’re just going to keep getting better. All of us will keep getting more comfortable playing with each other and we’re just going to try to go all the way to top.”
Terra Funk is a junior for Newcastle and is the top upperclassman on the Racers. It’s her third straight trip to the state tournament and she does not take it lightly.
“This feels good and this is my third time going to state,” Funk said. “We’re going to try not to be nervous and just prepare like we always do and stay focused. Pauls Valley put up a great fight against us yesterday and they came back today and gave us all they had. They tied it up but we came back and just kept fighting. I just listen to Coach Crossley and try to put the bat on the ball.”
Assistant coach Mark Johnson has been with Crossley ever since his days as a Newcastle baseball player under Crossley’s tutelage. His relationship goes way back with “Coach Crossley” and they have formed an admirable bond.
“It’s always exciting to make the state tournament because that’s what our goal is every year,” said Johnson, who graduated from Newcastle in 1988. “It’s a little more exciting this year maybe just because we have such a younger group than we’ve had in the past. They’ve had a lot to overcome mainly just between their ears – understanding in their minds that they belong here and that they belong to something special. There’s a tradition here that goes back a long way and they are certainly a part of that now.
“This is just my fifth year with the softball team but I’ve been with Coach Crossley for 17 years. I played for him in high school here at Newcastle and he’s always been a guy you can go to. He’s very technical at times but his approach is simple and he’s wonderful to play for and great to coach with. It’s special to coach not just for your hometown but for a guy you also play for and admire. He makes it fun for the kids and he makes it fun for me because he lets me do things other coaches probably don’t let their assistants do. He trusts me and he trusts his players. You love to play for and coach with a guy like him.”
Crossley, understandably, is excited again to be leading another team of his into the state tournament.
“We played with a chip on our shoulder all year,” Crossley said. “I don’t think other teams and coaches believed in us because we are so young. We heard rumors saying we weren’t as good as we were in the past but that’s not true. We don’t crush the ball or anything. But, we’ve always been able to hit the toughest pitchers. Our pitching and defense has been great throughout the season. This group certainly earned their trip to the state tournament.”
In an effort to keep fresh, Newcastle played at Class 5A Shawnee on Monday evening and at Class 5A Piedmont on Tuesday. The Class 4A state tournament begins today (Thursday, Oct. 12) at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City. For game times, visit the OSSAA website.