Lady Pirate seniors seeking third straight trip to state

When Poteau Lady Pirate senior softball players Natalee King, Meagan Ryburn and Briley Benson were just sophomores, they made their first trip to the Class 6A Slow-Pitch State Tournament. By tonight, the terrific trio could end their high school careers with a third straight trip to state.The Lady Pirates, who will face Broken Bow at 12:30 p.m. this afternoon at the Class 6A Regional Tournament in Muskogee, will make next week's state tournament as long as they do not lose twice today.In each of the first two trips to state, it's been a one-and-done for the Lady Pirates. They hope that changes this season.“The only thing that would make it better is to be state champion,” said King, who was this season's Most Valuable Player in the 2012 LeFlore County Slow-Pitch Tournament. “Winning it would make it better than just getting there. I'm wanting that to change this year.”Two other LeFlore County teams, Heavener (Class 5A) and Howe (Class 3A), each have two chances to make state — as regional champion or regional consolation champion. For the Pirates, there is only one way to make state — win today's Class 6A Regional Tournament. That could be a good and a bad thing.“I think we'll play harder because we have only one chance (to make state), but we also know that we have to play our best or our season will be done,” Ryburn said.Although the Lady Pirates won their 26th game Tuesday afternoon with a come-from-behind win over Heavener, they may not have been playing as well as they could be.“We're probably not playing our best softball right now,” Benson said. “We can definitely play better than what we're playing right now.”Despite four defensive errors, the Lady Pirates used a six-run seventh inning — including home runs from King and Kaylee Kingrey — to down the Lady Wolves. All total, Poteau had 12 hits — seven of which were in the seventh inning. Benson hopes that the offensive performance continues.“I think (Tuesday's game with Heavener) was a start in getting us playing better,” she said. “We definitely need to work on our hitting. That's where we've been struggling the most.”Last fall, when their fast-pitch softball seasons ended, the senior trio knew there was still basketball and slow-pitch softball ahead. When basketball ended, there was still slow-pitch softball.Now, the seniors' high school doors are about to close. Once their slow-pitch season ends, so, too, will their Poteau High School career — which is a bittersweet feeling to all three of them.“It's sad because it will be our last time to play slow-pitch,” said King, who will play collegiately with Ryburn and Benson at Carl Albert State College next spring. “We'll have (college) fast-pitch softball to look forward to. I just am sad because it will be our last year to get to play (slow-pitch softball for Poteau), so we're wanting to make the best of it.”“I think it's sad because from here on out, it's going to be new,” Ryburn said. “We're going to be leaving players we've been playing with our whole lives. We're going to be playing at Carl Albert, but it's sad that we're leaving our (Poteau High School) friends.”“I'm a little sad, but we're all going to be playing at Carl Albert,” Benson said. “So, it's not going to be our last time together.”