The Deer Creek Antlers beat Thursday’s thunderstorm to the punch, scoring all six of their runs on home run shots to give the district-leading Mustang Broncos their first district softball loss of the season.
“We faced some adversity early,” head coach Lacy Darity said after the game Thursday, with her team scurrying to finish field work before the thunderstorm blew in. “We kind of put ourselves in the hole a couple times. But then we answered the bell, and we kept fighting and fighting until we landed one.”
Deer Creek landed four haymakers in total. The first two — while impressive — were playing catch up. Mustang had put one run on the board each in the first and second innings, before the first two Bronco batters would homer to start the top of the third. The first two runs poured in after Deer Creek mental mistakes advanced the runners to scoring position. The last two were just the two- and three-hole Mustang hitters seeing the ball well.
But that’s all the Creek would give them.
Deer Creek’s Terin Ritz immediately answered with a home run herself, too. Ritz went out to right-center field in the bottom of the third, starting a trend of six unanswered Antler runs that would all cross with balls leaving the center field wall. It was Ritz’s third home run in just 72 hours, after she homered twice against Moore on Tuesday.
Leadoff batter Shayleigh Odom was next. On the next trip around the lineup Odom would leave the field of play just west of where Ritz’s solo-shot landed. Odom, like Ritz, homered twice against Moore on Tuesday, too. At the time of her third plate appearance, it was also her third dinger in 72 hours.
The shots brought Creek within two runs late Thursday evening.
This season, the Antlers have seen tons of production out of their first four hitters. When winning, Deer Creek has always excelled when the bottom of the order can turn the lineup to the hands of Odom, Ritz, Caitlyn Wells and Hailey Evans with runners on base. And, with those four seeing most of their at-bats in the odd-numbered half-innings, Deer Creek needed just one runner to reach for the top of the order to get a chance to win things in the bottom of the seventh Thursday night.
But nobody told five through nine that.
Starting the sixth — after Ritz herself completed her second of three scoreless innings from the circle — senior right-fielder and NOC-Enid commit Macy Stockton flighted a one-out single to right field. Two pitches later, Taylor Smith singled to the same spot.
Then entered Whitney Kimberlin. Batting an appearance after a fielder’s choice kept runners at first and second while putting the inning’s second out in lights, Kimberlin’s job was clear: Successfully turn the lineup over to the top of the order.
She did that — all while grabbing three RBIs herself.
Kimberlin saw a first-pitch ball before taking her very next pitch out of deep, dead center field. She’d leave from the deepest and tallest part of the wall, with a line drive that would score three and rocket the Antlers to their first lead of the night in their next-to-last guaranteed round of at-bats.
Coach Darity couldn’t have been any more proud of her second baseman.
“She’s a kid that we’ve challenged all year,” Darity said. “She’s had her struggles, but we just kept telling her ‘We have to have you. You make this thing roll, you turn the lineup over and get us where we need to be.
“It was amazing. We couldn’t have asked for any more.”
Kimberlin’s home run gave Odom and the top of the order another shot at it, too, and the leadoff centerfielder followed suit. Odom followed Kimberlin with a back-to-back home run in the bottom of the sixth, leaving from center for her fourth home run in two games.
Deer Creek’s offensive success might have been set up in a previous outing. The last time these two top-of-the-district teams met, the Antlers shelled Mustang ace Landry Garza for three, first-run innings. The Broncos countered, placing Lauren Cottrell on the mound to clinch out a 7-5 win in late August.
On Thursday, Cottrell and her off-speed arsenal started against the Antlers. But, for Odom at least, it was easier this time around since Creek had already seen her once.
“The more we see her, the more we can visualize what she’s going to do, and how they’re going to try and get us out based on past plate appearances,” Odom said. “That just makes it easier once we’ve seen her a few times.
“We knew she wasn’t going to throw us anything we were going to hit. So, we just kind of sat there waiting for our pitch, knowing that if she made a mistake then we were going to take her and do some damage with that.”
Odom’s head coach agreed.
“The last time we played them we scored three in the first inning, and then they put this kid in and she shut us down until the seventh,” Darity said. “They had a gameplan they were comfortable with; it was a fine gameplan, too, until we got a little more disciplined at the plate, saw our pitch and hit it a long way.”
Odom’s insurance investment put the tally at 6-4 Creek before Ritz retired three of her four seen batters in the top of the seventh.
The win caps of an important week for the Antlers. On Monday, they stared down the barrel of three district home games. They’d easily handle Putnam City, before Odom’s and Ritz’s double-duet of dingers lifted them in an important win over Moore — who currently sits third in district 6A-1. Then, Thursday, a firepower-laden victory of the district’s top-prize Mustang.
“It was a great way to cap off the week,” Darity said. “When the week started we challenged the girls. We had three things on our checklist: We took care of the first one, moved on to Moore — that was a really big game for us — we took care of them. And then just said go and get this one tonight and let’s finish our week the right way.”
The three wins have Creek firmly in second place in the district. More importantly — it gives Mustang a district loss. That means the Antlers are just now one behind in the loss column, while boasting a 12-run-better district point differential than the leading Bronchos. If the Antlers can take care of business in the back-half of the season — and if Mustang slips playing in the top-heavy, 6A-1 — Deer Creek would own the tiebreaker for first place.