OOLOGAH — Improved defensive play may be one reason why Miami heads into the post season on a roll.

"What has really come along the last couple off weeks is our defense," Miami coach Chris Mercer. "We’ve been playing better there the last couple of weeks. That has made difference between us winning and losing."

The Wardogs, 19-12 and ranked 17th in Class 4A, square off against No. 11 Vinita (20-12) in a 3:30 p.m. first-round regional battle here.

Seventh-ranked Mannford (24-6) tackles Oologah (12-15) in the 1:30 p.m. opener.

The winners play at 5:30 p.m. with the losers squaring off at 7:30 p.m.

An elimination game and the championship game will be Friday at 4 and 6 p.m.

An "if necessary" game will be at 1 p.m. Saturday.

“We’re hitting the ball well,” Mercer said. ”We’ve had a real good approach at the plate.”

While the Dogs are very familiar with Vinita — this will be the fourth meeting of the Verdigris Valley rivals — they have yet to see Oologah or Mannford.

"Mannford was in the state tournament last year and returned a lot of kids off that team," Mercer said.

The Pirates lost four of seven games down the stretch, including an 8-3 setback against Vinita on April 24.

They picked up a pair of forfeit wins against Hominy then crushed Tulsa Central 13-0 and 28-1 in district play.

Oologah topped Rogers County rival Claremore Sequoyah in its district tournament.

Vinita didn’t finish up its district until Tuesday, beating Locust Grove in the “if necessary” game.

Miami avoided weather woes when it played its district with Dewey last Thursday.

The Wardogs posted a 3-1 and 14-4 sweep.

The Wardogs held off Verdigris 8-6 on Monday in a regional tune-up.

"Both of our teams (the Hornets and MHS) are real comparable," Mercer said. "We’ve beaten them in two of the three we’ve played, but they’ve all been close games."

The Wardogs used a seventh-inning rally to claim a 7-6 victory at Joe Pollock Field on March 16.

Vinita squeezed out a 9-7 decision on April 10 in the semifinals of the Adair tournament.

The third meeting between the teams was moved to Miami on April 27, with the Dogs claiming a 4-3 win.

Mercer wasn’t sure if right-hander Andrew Allen or southpaw Grant Longcrier would get the start on the mound for MHS.

The Wardogs got a boost Tuesday when freshman pitcher-shortstop Matt Walker started taking batting practice. He’s been out for two-plus weeks with a broken hand.

"I’m not sure if he will be able to pitch, but defensively we may have him back," Mercer said. "He may be able to play some shortstop. That would be a plus."

Jim Ellis, 542-5533, ext. 3052

jim.ellis@miaminewsrecord.com