It’s no secret where the Mustang Broncos want to be Oct. 15.
2801 NE 50th St., Oklahoma City.
Mustang is familiar with USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium, but that date is circled on the team’s calendar for a reason. It’s the day of the state championship and it represents the next step for a program ready to peak.
“After the last two years, it’s our goal to make it to that final game and see what happens,” said Lacy Darity, Mustang’s third-year head coach.
The experience gained from reaching the state semifinals last year and the quarterfinals in 2020 is just one of many reasons Darity thinks this year’s Broncos are in prime position to take the next step. Leadership, athleticism, and versatility are also at the top of the list, as well as a strong battery, a talented lineup, and reliable defensive play.
The team’s leadership stems from a group of six seniors – Landry Garza, Kiera McGahee, Brookelyn Mitchell, Logan Pickelsimer, Olivia See, and Mackie Vaught – who Darity says takes a livelier approach towards preparation and holding the squad accountable.
“They’re very outspoken and not afraid to let their voices be heard,” she said. “They’ve seen all different sides of leadership, so they have a pretty good idea of what works for this team and what kind of leadership it needs. They also do a great job of leading by example.”
Darity and the coaching staff haven’t been afraid to let the team’s upperclassmen take command. The program has even developed a leadership council consisting of players tasked with deciding the team’s values and standards.
“We try to get them to take that role from us because we know it means a little bit more coming from a teammate. These seniors know this is their last go, so they’re not afraid to hold people accountable or give them praise and love when someone needs it.”
On the field, the Broncos will look to an experienced battery, fresh faces across the infield and two returning starters in the outfield.
McGahee, who is committed to Seminole State College, and Garza, committed to the University of Central Oklahoma, are expected to shoulder the load inside the circle. Pickelsimer, an Oklahoma State-commit, will take over behind the dish, handling most of the catching duties.
As juniors, McGahee and Garza combined for over 134 innings and started 25 of the teams 34 games. McGahee struck out 74 batters over 78.1 innings, finishing the season with 11 wins and a 2.68 earned run average. Garza struck out 47 over 56.1 innings, closing with six wins and a 2.61 ERA.
“They have three years of varsity experience between them,” Darity said of the duo. “But they’ve always kind of had that third arm to go with them. I hesitate to call them 1A and 1B, because for us they are both 1A. And this year I expect them to see an increase in innings and for them to handle most of the work.”
Pickelsimer moves behind the plate after playing mostly second base and third base last season, hitting for a .229 average with seven walks and five RBI in 23 games. She played catcher as a sophomore after starting at shortstop her freshman season, combining experience and versatility with her defensive prowess as a backstop.
“Logan has a lot of experience and has been around the block,” Darity said. “She’s awesome. She’s a really talented defensive catcher and is very intelligent. She has a great arm behind the plate, so we don’t anticipate a lot of stolen bases against us.”
After graduating starters at first base, third base, and shortstop, Darity says the Broncos will feature a few fresh faces looking to take charge of those infield positions. She also believes the team will have plenty of athleticism at each spot.
Junior Emerson Pegram played in 11 games last season and will likely spend most of her time at first base. Mitchell, who will play both corner positions, has been working hard especially at first. Freshman Rylann Beeson could also see some time at the corners.
Junior Eden Anderson, who has started in right field the past two seasons, will slide over to third base. She hit .340 last season with five home runs and six doubles and finished second on the team with 33 RBI. Darity says that although Anderson was solid in the outfield, she’s an infielder at heart.
Junior Fae Cornish and freshman Reese Poage will likely play the middle infield positions. Both can play either shortstop or second base. Junior Kenzie Sessions should rotate in at second base as well as outfield, once again showing the flexibility at Darity’s disposal.
“It’s a nice problem to have because we have so much athleticism,” she said. “What it’s going to boil down to for us is who is the most consistent offensively and who can get on base and hit the ball. If they do that, we can find a spot for them defensively.”
The Broncos return two starters in the outfield – See, who hit .276 with nine RBI and 12 runs, in center field, and junior Arionna McElroy, who hit .356 with five home runs, four triples, three doubles and 21 RBI, in left. With Anderson moving to third base, right field could be patrolled by any number of players currently looking to earn the spot.
“We have quite a few kids trying to figure it out in the outfield,” Darity said. “Like we’ve told all of them, this year is a clean slate. Just because you started or played last year doesn’t mean you’re going to start this year. Like with the infield, it’s going to come down to who is going to give us the most consistent lineup offensively and support our pitchers. Defensively, we will be just fine.”
Darity plans to lean on her team’s athleticism this season, especially on the base paths. She also expects to see the squad’s overall power numbers rise.
“Their skillsets will allow us to be more aggressive on the bases. We haven’t been as aggressive as I would have liked the last two years, but I think we have a little different speed element to this year’s team.
“As far as power, I think this group collectively has a lot. Eden (Anderson), Arionna (McElroy), and Landry (Garza) all hit for power. We also have a couple of freshmen that pack a lot. Last year we had Cassie (Passwaters) hit 15 home runs and around .600. I don’t know that we’ll have one person replicate that, but I think collectively we can meet and surpass that.”
Depth will also be a key ingredient.
“With so much talent, it gives us many more options than we’ve had before,” Darity said. “We don’t have kids that are limited to one position. We have several kids that I feel comfortable putting in the infield or outfield. We have a lot of good players; we just have to figure out the best recipe to go out and win games.”
The Broncos may look a little different in 2022, but the excitement and expectations surrounding the team remain the same. And after winning 48 games the past two seasons – with two trips to the state playoffs – they’re eyeing just one prize.
“This year everyone has really bought into what we’re trying to do and have invested in the culture,” Darity said. “After two straight state tournaments, it’s now final game or bust. And that’s what you want.”