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Oklahoma baseball notebook: Anytime, anywhere approach paying off for surging Oktaha; Oklahoma Christian School, Sand Springs also enjoying strong runs

News and notes from around Oklahoma high school baseball

By Buck Ringgold

Oktaha has long been regarded as one of the top powerhouse baseball programs in eastern Oklahoma. 

The Tigers have also won two state titles, albeit both were in the fall, the last coming in 2017.

However, the Tigers believe they are equipped to have a great chance to win the school's first spring baseball championship. One of the things that has carried them has been a challenging schedule.

Despite Oktaha playing in Class 2A, the Tigers (19-5) have already played 17 of their 24 games against teams in higher classifications. They are also 2-0 against 5A teams and 7-0 against 4A schools.

Oktaha even has a winning record against 6A foes, improving to 4-3 after downing Bixby, 4-3, Thursday in the Spartans' own Spartan/Tiger Turf War tournament they jointly share with Broken Arrow.

"We play the best schedule that we can put together, and we've done that since I've been here," said Kevin Rodden, in his ninth season as Oktaha's coach. "Then our kids, it's like they rise to the occasion; they're really good about just what their mentality is, they feel like they can beat anybody regardless of class or anything like that.

"As a matter of fact, we hadn't played a 2A team until we played Hartshorne in (Hartshorne's Coal Mining Classic) last week. The whole year, we hadn't even played a 2A team."

Oktaha has won 10 of its past 11 games after Thursday's win against Bixby. That included tournament titles at the Hilldale/Fort Gibson Shootout and the Coal Mining Classic.

At the Hilldale/Fort Gibson Shootout in late March and early April, the Tigers beat three 4A teams. That included a 10-4 win in the semifinals against previously undefeated Verdigris, and Oktaha went on to a 12-2 win against highly ranked Class A Red Oak in the title game.

"We've kind of got that culture set now that they just have confidence they can go out and compete with anybody regardless of class, and you've got to beat the best to be the best so that's kind of their mentality," Rodden said.

Setting the tone for the Tigers is their pitching staff.

"I think it's those four quality arms we can run out there every day," Rodden said. "They're strike throwers and they know how to pitch and they're ultra-competitive."

Leading the Tigers' staff is senior Jake Blackwell, a left-hander who has played since his freshman year. Tyler Allen, a junior, has gone undefeated on the season.

Rodden also likes what he has seen from sophomore Maddox Edwards and his command of all three of his pitches. Then there's senior Tucker Christian, who had been catcher the past three seasons and had missed last fall's season due to an ACL injury.

Christian also bats lead-off for the Tigers with a lineup Rodden remarked is stocked with depth.

"One through nine, we've got a lot more depth this year than I've ever had; even the state championship team we had back in '17, we had some pretty good pieces with that group but this group I feel like is deeper," Rodden said. "I've got 12 or 13 guys I feel like can play at any time for us; we've got guys on the bench I feel like that can go and start for any team around us."

In the fall, Oktaha played for the 2A fall baseball title but lost to Silo. The Tigers are chasing Silo again this spring, as the Rebels are undefeated and ranked No. 1 in 2A, with Oktaha coming in ranked second.

"Every tournament we've been in this year, in the fall and the spring, they've won except for the state championship game that we got beat in last fall," Rodden said. "They've won all three tournaments in the fall and in the spring, the Fort Gibson tournament, the Hartshorne tournament and the Pryor/Claremore tournament up at Pryor.

"We've kind of been on a roll, so I've said 'Guys, I'll give up all these six tournament championships back if we can win that last one,' so I want the big one and these are kind of the steppingstones to that big one."

Oklahoma Christian School

The Saints have been on a surge of their own, winning 10 of their past 11 games. On Tuesday, they continued their roll in District 3A-1 with a doubleheader sweep against Newkirk, winning the first game 17-6 before rolling in the nightcap, 20-0, to stand atop the district at 11-0.

"Our season's been going pretty good," OCS coach Romus Cezar said. "We've been pitching the ball really well, and as of late, our bats are starting to come alive a little bit.

"We've got a lot of seniors right now and they're leading in the right way, keeping the course. We have a lot of freshmen helping us out on the mound and that's super beneficial. Our team is also playing really good defense right now and we're just continuing to try to build each and every day, trying to work towards our goal at the end of the year."

Cezar said perhaps the Saints' most important win came on April 1, a 13-4 win against Hilldale at the Fort Gibson/Hilldale Shootout. The night before, OCS lost 4-2 to Fort Gibson.

But against Hilldale, the Saints scored runs in each of their first five innings, including five in the third. Seven of their nine position players had at least one hit, including a home run from senior Jackson Cosby.

Two other seniors, Gage Gilchrist and Tristan Biggs, have been vital in the Saints' lineup. Biggs bats lead-off and Gilchrist, who plays first base, hits in the middle of the order.

"They don't give in; they continue to battle each and every day," Cezar said. "We kind of go pitch to pitch and see what happens, and from there on, we let the chips fall where they may."

That Hilldale win started the Saints' current run of 10 wins in their last 11 contests.

In the second game of Tuesday's district series with Newkirk, Gilchrist was one of three Saints who hit home runs, along with Drew Adcock and Alec Riner.

Cezar added left-hander Corbin Kwan and Jackson Hill have helped stabilize the pitching staff and both are able to pound the strike zone.

"Our whole team in general, those guys just compete and they just battle and grind it out and they all complement each other, and that's a good thing to have," Cezar said.

Sand Springs

In a rugged District 6A-3, the Sandites are more than holding their own.

Sand Springs is part of a three-way tie for second place in the district, a game back of Owasso. The Sandites (21-4, 7-3) have also won 11 of their last 12 games, the latest a 5-0 win Thursday against Bartlesville.

Last week, Sand Springs swept a district series from Jenks, another team in the 6A-3 mix. Sand Springs, Jenks and Broken Arrow are all tied for second in the district.

"The kids have played awesome," Sandite coach Matt Brown said. "They're taking it one game at a time, exactly like you coach them to do and they're playing for each other.

"We've played well, the kids have played well, they're playing for each other, they're doing what they're supposed to do and taking care of their business."

Brown noted the Sandites were able to get their season turned around with last month's Best of the West tournament in Arizona, with Sand Springs winning all five games played.

"When we won the Best of the West tournament out in Arizona, it kind of gave the kids the confidence and the belief that we could do whatever was in front of us," he said. "Then us winning that game in Broken Arrow in 11 innings (4-3 on March 28), us being able to hold on and win that game, those two things were huge for us as far as us getting the momentum rolling in the right direction."

The Sandites are led on the mound by Jabe Schlehuber, who pitches their district openers on Mondays. Then Carson Seabolt takes the ball on Tuesdays and hasn't lost a district game, including winning a 1-0 decision this past Tuesday against Southmoore.

"Jabe has done awesome and has kept us in every single game that he's thrown," Brown said. "Carson has done great, too. ... I think we've won every game that he's pitched all season, so just staying behind those two guys; those two guys are keeping us in every game."

On offense, catcher Dom Ornelas has hit several home runs. The Sandites are also getting contributions from shortstop Keaton Campbell, who has signed with Cowley County (Kan.) Community College, along with Pittsburg (Kan.) State football signee Ty Pennington and Gabe Glenn, whose homer accounted for the lone run in Tuesday's win.

"It's a different guy for us all the time, which is what is great about the team and they're picking each other up," Brown said.

Sand Springs resumes district play Monday against U.S. Grant.