After her final homerun secured a third straight slow pitch softball state title for the Dale Lady Pirates, Mikayla Rutland's coach called her a legend.
After her final homerun secured a third straight slow pitch softball state title for the Dale Lady Pirates, Mikayla Rutland’s coach called her a legend.
It’s easy to see why. In four years of high school, the teams she played on never finished worse than second in the state. In the past eight state tournament appearances, the Lady Pirates have a 21-3 record with three slow pitch and two fast pitch state championships.
But Dale Coach Andy Powell wasn’t calling Rutland the best player in Dale history. The list of great Lady Pirate softball players is long. There are a lot more than four faces on the Mount Rushmore of Dale softball. But Rutland is in that discussion.
Coach Powell’s proclamation reflected his feelings on the accomplishment she had just completed.
“She may not be the greatest player we have ever had,” Powell said. “We have several great ones. She just completed her second straight state tournament without being put out and hit homeruns to end the semifinals and championship. That’s incredible.”
Rutland said she wasn’t always the caliber of player that was named to All-State teams in fast pitch, basketball and slow pitch in her senior year. In her freshman year, she played left field but another player batted for her. In fact, even in her junior year, she only had five homeruns coming into the state tournament. On that fateful day, her bat was struck by the same lightning that her teammates Dani and Delanie Manning were showing off all year. Delanie hit a school record 48 homeruns in 2017. Dani added 45 of her own. Rutland only had five coming into the state tournament, but she hit six more in the three game championship run.
Something clicked. No one is sure what clicked or why it clicked that day, but once it started, it didn’t stop.
“That’s why I love coaching,” Powell said. “You watch a girl who has always hit the ball hard and been a good hitter figure out the trajectory and swing and go to another level.”
Rutland said she wasn’t sure what happened that day to turn her into a power hitter.
“Once I started hitting them, I just came to the plate knowing I could and that made a big difference,” she said.
This year, Delanie Manning added 45 more homeruns and Rutland matched that total. The 2018 Lady Pirates broke a school – and probably a state - record with 179 homeruns in 41 games. That’s more than four per game.
The team went 39-2 and Rutland credits her coaches and teammates for that.
“We only have three seniors but we have a lot of great juniors and a couple of younger players who made the team really good,” she said. “And Coach Powell and Widner are always pushing us on doing the little things right. Coach Powell always says Dale wins because we do the little things right.”
Powell has lost a lot of seniors who mean a lot to him but the three this year, Kaylee Lawson, London Calvillo and Rutland are special to him.
“Mikayla is one of the closest to me because she is my daughter’s best friend. She basically grew up at our house,” Powell said. “Plus, this year’s seniors all led by example. They helped the freshmen carry the equipment at state. They were leaders with how they treated their teammates, not just how they played on the field.”
Rutland said coming into her senior year, the legacy of great teams and players from recent Dale teams added pressure to her personnally.
“You don’t want to be the one who doesn’t get it done,” she said. “That’s made it mean even more to become the first ones to win both in the same year and win a third one in a row in slow pitch.”
Rutland’s career at Dale ended with tears running down her face.
She came to bat with her team needing one run to finish off Silo and win the title. The pitch floated in and Rutland hit a bomb out of the Championship Field at Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City. She said she didn’t know it was a homerun until she heard the cheers and saw her coach jumping up and down. She said her mind was racing as she rounded first knowing she had just finished off another state championship for the Lady Pirates.
“I knew it was my last at bat at Dale,” Rutland said. She had played with the same group of Dale girls since she was young. “I knew we were going out winners.”
As she rounded the bases with tears coming down her cheeks, she saw her team ready to celebrate a championship and several team records and firsts.
Rutland – who was recently named the Slow Pitch Softball Player of the Year at the News-Star Best of Preps awards - said she hoped the younger girls learned from her leadership that they need to lead by example and treat each other well.
She said Dale has lost incredible seniors several years in a row and they are still winning. She has no reason to believe that would change.
“We lost all staters every year,” she said. “Someone will have to step up and be the next ones. Obviously, with Delanie coming back and only losing three seniors, they’ll have a great shot to win it all again.”
Coach Powell agreed that his squad will be good again and he is looking forward to seeing which player might show the improvement Rutland did in her years with the Lady Pirates.
“Someone will have to fill those shoes if we are going to avoid a dropoff,” he said. “Delanie stayed on track and Mikayla picked up Dani’s numbers. Next year, someone will have to pick up hers. With eight juniors, there are several who have the ability to do it.”
Rutland is an example that greatness doesn’t always come immediately. She proved that hard work, coachability and a great attitude can help take a player from good to great. Rutland said she would miss her time at Dale and the friendships playing sports there brought her.
But she is certain that Dale will be back and some of those younger girls will be able to record accomplishments and enjoy it as much as she did.