When Friday night arrived at the Sallisaw Sports Complex, there were only two teams left in the 2023 OK Kids Age 12-and-Younger State Tournament — both of whom were undefeated, the Sallisaw Cardinals and the Elk City Crushers — when the winner-take-all game for the state championship took center stage, meaning one team was going to only suffer its first loss for the week and end up runner-up.
As luck had it, the one team that ended up going the entire week without a loss and winning the state title was the Cardinals, who got past the Crushers 7-2.
The Cardinals reached the title game with a 14-0 shutout of the Anadarko Warriors in the state semifinals earlier that afternoon, which came a day after the Cardinals reached the state championship series as they went through red-bracket play undefeated to be its champion with a 13-1 victory over the Okarche Warriors in Thursday afternoon’s winner’s bracket final.
In the state title game, a six-run first inning was all the Cardinals needed. RBI singles by Rowdi Nickell, Luke Warner and Jordan Velasquez, an RBI fielder’s choice grounder by Bradly Cox and two Elk City errors gave Sallisaw a 6-0 lead after an inning.
After the Crushers scored their first run in the top of the second inning, The Cardinals scored their final run in their half of the frame on a wild pitch, scoring Nickell from third base, for a 7-1 lead.
The biggest scoring threat for the Crushers came in the fourth inning. With one out, Elk City had runners at first and third. After one of Kiefer Bailey’s five strikeouts for the second out, the next Crushers hitter singled into right field, scoring the runner from third base. However, the other runner, who had advanced to second base on a wild pitch prior to the run-scoring single, rounded third base too far, and the relay throw from right fielder Jace Money to catcher Gunner Griffey to third baseman Cord Tucker nabbed the Crusher baserunner at third base for the final out of the inning, preserving the Cardinals’ 7-2 lead.
Bailey ended the game by retiring the next six batters in order to get the complete-game victory, which was then followed by the Cardinals celebrating their state championship.
For the game, Nickell was 2-for-3 with two runs scored and a run batted in, Warner and Velasquez each were 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored and Bailey tripled and scored once.
In the state semifinals, a two-run single by Warner and an RBI groundout by Tucker put the Cardinals ahead 3-0 after an inning.
An Anadarko error and a wild pitch produced two more runs in the second inning for a 5-0 lead for the locals after two innings.
The Cardinals put away the game with an eight-run third inning, with an RBI single by Caden Bair, an inside-the-park home run by Nickell, a two-run single by Velasquez, an RBI single by Cox, another Anadarko error and a wild pitch producing the runs, to up Sallisaw’s advantage to 13-0 after three innings.
Nickell’s RBI groundout scored Bair in the fourth inning for the final run.
Griffey got the win, pitching all six innings with six strikeouts and scattering three hits.
For the game, Griffey was 3-for-3 with a run scored, Warner was 3-for-4 with a run scored, Cox was 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI, Bair was 2-for-3 with two runs scored and an RBI, Bailey was 2-for-4 with a double and three runs scored and Nickell hit his inside-the-park homer, scored twice and drove in two runs.
In the victory over Okarche, the Cardinals broke a scoreless tie with a 13-run second inning as Cox’s RBI single, Bailey’s two-run RBI double, another RBI single by Cox, an RBI single by Money, an RBI single by Bair, an RBI single by Bailey, an RBI double by Nickell and an RBI single by Warner to go with a passed ball and an Okarche error produced the runs.
The Warriors scored their lone run on a one-out RBI single by Jake Henderson.
The Cardinals’ pitching duo of Bailey and Tucker combined on a four-hitter. Bailey got the win, going the first two innings with three strikeouts. Tucker went the final two innings with three Ks as well.
For the game, Cox was 3-for-3 with three RBIs and two runs scored, Bailey was 2-for-3 with a double, three RBIs and two runs scored, Nickell was 2-for-3 with two doubles, two RBIs and two runs scored, Griffey was 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored, Money was 2-for-3 with two runs scored, Warner was 2-for-3 and Tucker tripled and scored once.