Just over a week before the start of this softball season, new Dover coach Matt Peck was unsure of his squad.
The Lady Longhorns had just attended a preseason festival in Watonga and things didn’t go well.
“It’s going to take a lot of work,” Peck said.
Now almost a month into the season?
“We still have a long way to go,” admitted Peck.
However, there is now much more room for optimism.
Dover entered last week with a 7-3 record and when Monday’s coaching rankings were released the Lady Longhorns were in 17th place in Class B.
This is the first time that a Dover softball team has been ranked since the OSSAA instituted the ranking.
“The girls agreed to play together and be there for each other,” Peck said.
It also doesn’t hurt that he has talent to craft.
Seniors Kamry and Karly McNulty were not eligible to play as juniors after being transferred from Hennessey.
Now they are the pitcher and the shortstop respectively, as well as the first and second stick of the Dover roster.
“They’ve been great voices on the pitch,” Peck said. “Being seniors, they lead by example and make sure they hold others accountable. It’s very good for me to have that.
The batting and fifth in order is another pair of twins: Katelynn and Karlee Harviston.
The sophomores “were really rough at the start of the season, but they picked it up for us,” Peck said.
Sandwiched between the twins is freshman Madison Goodwin, who, according to Peck, “is a big stick for us.”
Another freshman, Hadlee Bryan, follows the Harvistons in order.
“She’s made some progress mentally,” Peck said. “I can say that every day that she comes to train she is more locked in and she keeps improving.”
That meat of order helped Dover to four wins in five games before an 11-3 loss to Hennessey on Tuesday night.
Prior to the loss, the Lady Longhorns beat Prue 8-0 and Mounds 10-0 to earn a berth in the Hilton Invitational Championship game.
School officials said they believe this is the first time a Dover fastpitch team has reached a tournament final.
Whether the Lady Longhorns are capable of winning the title remains to be seen.
The rain delayed the title tilt against Olive and it was rescheduled for September 2.
Win or lose this game, Peck said the team may have a number of things to do, but they’ve regained a ton of ground already this season.
After the Lady Longhorns were 1-3 at this Watonga festival, Peck said they “hit the reset button”.
They played a few days later at a team camp at Pioneer.
“We have entered a completely different state of mind,” he said. “And our camraderie improved.”
Peck was an outstanding athlete at Cimarron High School and was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2006 MLB Draft.
He chose to play in college and spent two years in Cowley County before finishing at Oklahoma State University.
Peck spent several years working with local youth teams and last season he was on the Kingfisher High School baseball staff as the Jackets reached the State 4A tournament.
Towards the end of the last baseball season, Dover’s softball offer reached him.
He didn’t let it pass, even though his experience as a softball coach was slim.
“It was very difficult at the start,” he said. “But I enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun.
Peck said he works on all aspects of the game, from the simpler things like playing wrestling to the bigger tasks like learning “how” to win.
“I’m talking about how we don’t just play wrestling,” he said. “We catch a practice where you grab the ball for a four-seam fastball right out of your glove as soon as you catch it. There is always something to improve.
“We are not leaving any shot lost.”
Peck said he was trying to reverse a trend of “bad body language”.
“One of the things we’re working on is playing with a lead,” he said. “Several times we’ve been up – even big – and gave up a few runs. Even though we still have a big lead, our body language has been terrible. They acted as if they were losing.
Peck said he was trying to instill in team members that they “can play through this adversity”.
“They are starting to understand this,” he said.
The Lady Longhorns supported him.
After the error-filled loss at Hennessey, Dover rebounded on Thursday with two wins at Cimarron.
The Lady Longhorns beat the host team 12-1, then the Oklahoma Bible Academy 9-8.
The team is now 9-4 on the season.
The fact that the Lady Longhorns have no home ground makes an early departure from Dover more unlikely.
Dover is in the process of building a brand new softball complex, but it won’t be finished until after the season.
“I tell them the odds are stacked against us,” Peck said. “Every game is absent. We have to train on the baseball field when the baseball team is not using it.
“These are more things that we have to overcome.”
But so far, all is well, despite the most recent setbacks.
But it’s not just about wins and losses for Peck, who is married to former Krista Bullis, who played four state championship basketball games for the Lady Longhorns.
“It’s more than playing softball,” said Peck. “I tell them it’s about having an impact on people, bringing people together, bringing the school and all the families of the players together.
“That’s the whole story.”