Miami coach Chris Mercer thinks the Lady Wardogs' rugged schedule has them well prepared for what lays ahead - a Class 5A fast-pitch softball regional beginning Thursday at Skiatook.

“At times, it was a challenge having a younger team this year, and I hope it pays off in the end,” Mercer said.

The Lady Wardogs, in Class 5A for the first time in years, will tackle Stilwell at noon while No. 3 Skiatook and Tulsa East Central tangle at 2 p.m.

The two losers play at 4 p.m. and the winners' bracket final will be at 6 p.m.

Play resumes next Thursday with an elimination game at noon and the championship game at 2 p.m. The “if necessary” game will follow at 4 p.m.

“I am a firm believer that when you get into this time of year, it's not so much who you are playing as how you play,” Mercer said. “You can get all the scouting reports you want, and it's nice to have, but first and foremost, you have to have your own team ready to play. If we show up and play like we're capable, we'll have a good chance.

“Our record (18-17) is similar to Stilwell (18-16), but the schedule is not even comparable,” he said. “We go out every year and test ourselves.”

Mercer said the Lady Indians' key player is their shortstop.

“She is their best player,” he said. “They've played a lot of teams further south.”

Skiatook suffered back-to-back losses in the 2006 state tournament, falling 8-5 to Duncan and 4-3 to Claremore.

The Lady Bulldogs were eliminated in the first round in 2003 and reached the semifinals in'02.

“Skiatook has a great tradition in softball - it seems like every year there is at least one of their kids out at NEO,” Mercer said. “Pitching isn't their strength - they just have a lot of good athletes. They do a lot of little things. They always run well and play small ball.”

Other regionals are at No. 1 Midwest City Carl Albert, No. 2 Lawton MacArthur, No. 4 Shawnee, No. 5 Coweta, No. 6 Duncan, No. 8 Pryor and No. 10 Bixby.