'EXPECT TO COMPETE': Despite recent losses, Riders gearing up for home playoff run

Apr. 23—The Hulbert Riders got a taste last weekend of what was to come for the District Playoffs.

On Saturday, April 20, the Riders were defeated by Pocola in the Checotah Tournament to end their series without a win. Later this week, PHS will head to Hulbert for the District Playoffs starting on Thursday, April 25. While the Riders fell 11-3 during the final day of the tournament, HHS head coach John Rozell is expecting a better performance.

Some errors opened the door for a pair of big innings for PHS. Rozell expects improvement during the playoffs.

"We made the exceptional plays; we just couldn't make the routine plays in two innings. From what I saw, it should be a good series, I think it may go three games," Rozell said. "We competed this weekend; we just had a couple of innings where we had some meltdowns. I expect to compete, but it's made it a lot more tricky. We play well at home; our guys know what is at stake."

Outside of the two innings with bad errors, Rozell thought the Riders played a solid game against PHS. Rozell sees a lot of similarities between the two teams. Both are young teams that are still looking for solid footing.

"We learned they are a solid team. GThey are really young like us, but they have some good players. We just had two innings that are our Achilles heel," Rozell said.

Before the Riders host the playoffs, they will have Senior Night and will complete then against Checotah. The two teams will play just five innings in a warmup for the playoffs.

"I just want to see them compete," Rozell said. "We are going to throw different guys. We are kind of using it as a practice, but we are trying to win on Senior Night. I want to see guys compete — just make fundamental plays and don't implode like we did over the weekend."

During Senior Night, the Riders will honor Johnny Torres and Christopher Willis.

Thompson's injury

The Riders took their lumps during the Checotah Tournament after losing one of their leading players early on. Shortstop Ethan Thompson's cleat got stuck in the turf and rolled his ankle. Thompson is currently on crutches.

"We are all young, but he is one of our leaders. It is a part of playing sports; it is just next man up. Our numbers are limited, anyway," Rozell said.

Since he was serving as the top pitcher and lead-off man, Thompson's loss could prove to be big for a young Riders team.

"It hurts tremendously," Rozell said. "A guy having a season like he was on the mound — he is our best pitcher, but also our shortstop and sometimes centerfield. He's our lead-off guy, too; he steals a lot of bases. It is a huge loss for us, and completely changes our team."

Despite the injury, Thompson wants to play, according to Rozell.

"He wants to play but it is looking very iffy. The swelling is down, but he can't even drive. Three days from now, it would be a miracle [if he played]," Rozell said.

The Riders and PHS open the playoffs on Thursday, April 25, at Hulbert High School. At the time of publication, the Riders sit with a 10-16 record.

"I am proud of our guys. We knew it was a rebuilding year, but they keep competing. It is learning how to respond to failure," Rozell said.

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