By Mike Tupa


mtupa@examiner-enterprise.com


Bartlesville Doenges Ford Indians are slated to be at full strength at this weekend’s 61st Annual Glen Winget Memorial Baseball Tournament on Spence Rigdon Field at Bill Doenges Memorial Stadium.


The host Indians — which are the host team — were slated to open up Thursday night against the Ft. Smith (Ark.) Sportsman team.


On Friday night, they are set for a 7:30 p.m. showdown against the Branson (Mo.) Pirates. Bartlesville’s starting pitcher will be Randsom Jones, Indian skipper John Pannell said.


The Winget field features eight teams — three from Oklahoma (Indians, Three Rivers Bandits and Oklahoma Mudcats), three from Missouri (the Springfield Hillcrest Merchants, the Springfield Hillcrest Kickapoo Chiefs and the Branson Pirates) and two from Arkansas (Ft. Smith Sportsman and Mountain Home Lockeroom).


Four games were set for the first three days — at noon, 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.


A full schedule ran twice this week in the E-E sports pages, on Tuesday and Thursday.


It all wraps up on Sunday’s blockbuster final push to the championship.


Preliminary games include the battle for seventh place (8 a.m.) and the war for fifth place (10:15 a.m.).


The semifinals are slated to be played at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., with the final planned for 6 p.m.


Ft. Smith is the defending tourney champion. The Indians captured the title in 2016 and 2018.


This will be the first year that Three Rivers and the Oklahoma Mudcats will play in the event.


The Indians and Springfield Hillcrest are the lone two programs to have played in every single Winget tourney since the spectacle started in 1959.


A large chunk of Pannell’s life has revolved around the Winget tourney — since his childhood years in the 1980’s to his playing days and college experience in the early-to-latter 1990’s, to his service the past the quarter century as a coach, head coach or tournament director in Bartlesville American Legion Baseball. Even though the Indians are not affiliated this year with the American Legion — which cancelled its official summer season — the traditions remain in tact.


The biggest of those is the Winget Tourney, started up by former Doenges Ford coach Glen Winget, who passed away in 1960.


With the exception of 1963 — when the tourney didn’t take place — and 2007 — when it was flooded out after the first two days — the Winget has been played out to a championship conclusion every year.


But, the colorful affair transcends the superb quality of play between the foul lines.


“Basically, the Winget is a reconvening of friends,” Pannell said about the relationships built with coaches, fans and even players associated with teams that return year after year. “All these guys, most of them you see once a year … but it’s like you don’t miss a beat.”


His other favorite part is watching first-year Winget players being baptized in the wonder of Doenges Stadium, which turned 90 years old this year.


That’s why, “being there when players get there and come into the stadium and watching their faces as they look at our place,” remains a thrill that never fades, Pannell said.


The emotion of players — particularly those with the Indians — who come out on the field, to the boisterous cheers of the spectators, during introductions for their first Winget game is an emotion that cannot be duplicated, said Pannell.


“The first time is pretty amazing,” he said.


Pannell experienced only one Winget championship (1993) as a player. He still recalls vividly how Joel Estes led off the game with a double, moved to third on ball contact by Chad Stanley and then scored on Pannell’s ground-out.


“We took the lead and never looked back,” in the finals’ win against Enid, he said.


A decade later, Pannell would lead the Indians to the 2003 Winget crown — this time as the team’s head coach.


Seventeen years later, Pannell — who returned this summer as head coach after nine seasons away — is hoping to become the fifth Indians’ head coach to capture multiple Winget titles.


Despite the team’s unimpressive record (11-15), Pannell has rarely had all his weapons in place in the same game. He expects to be at full power this weekend, including the additions of Marlow’s Nate Herchock and Bishop Kelley left-handed pitcher Clayton Hill.


Herchock is the son of former long-time Dewey High head baseball coach Eddie Herchock.


Among Pannell’s most experienced athletes are a handful of college-aged athletes, including Jones (Pawhuska), Bartlesville High graduates Calvin Johnson, Harald Borg, Dakota Ward and Andrew Harden.


Johnson and Harden have played in almost all the games and bat in the power part of the lineup. Borg is versatile defensive star at several positions, can fill quality innings on the bump and wields a veteran stick at the platter. Ward has appeared in a goodly amount of games as a triple threat — defense, pitching and batting.


Jones is a relatively new addition this year, but has much experience in past summers in the Bartlesville Legion program and is a vital mound talent.


Non-Bartlesville High talents that have forged a strong impact include Collinsville’s Hunter Harlan, Pawhuska’s Ryan Jones and Caney Valley’s Daniel Barham, Bryer Kramer and Haden Fiddler.


Bartlesville High talent has been considerable force, as well, both those with varsity or jayvee experience. This list includes William Parsley, Bradee Rigdon, Nik Johnson, Christian Hernandez, Harrison Clark, Noah Loyd and Luke Fox.


Pannell’s roster exceeds 20 players, including a couple (Braeden Winters and Alan Covarrubias) on the D.L., so quality depth is not an issue.


But, the tourney is stacked with quality teams — capturing the title might be more of a matter of survival than superiority.


Bartlesville challenges


For the Indians, this has been a season of uncertainties sandwiched between determination and enthusiasm.


They weren’t certain they would get to play this summer at Bill Doenges Memorial Stadium, due to the Bartlesville Public Schools decision to keep school facilities locked going into June.


But, the BPS graciously allowed the Indians to move into the facility just in time to get ready for the Winget tourney.


In addition, the OSSAA waived its summer dead week period — which would have been in force this weekend — which meant the Oklahoma players could compete in the stadium, unlike last year, when half the play took place at the Oklahoma Wesleyan University diamond.


The Indians also have had to forge a new team chemistry with a diversity of components from various schools and areas.


It’s all seemed to come together.


Following is a brief look at the some of other teams:


Mountain Home: This squad, a Winget finalist in recent years, had put together an 11-8 record through last Sunday, including sizable wins against West Plains, 14-0, and Batesville, 13-0.


Springfield Hillcrest: The Merchants were 1-6 through Wednesday, recording their win against the Republic Tigers. But, Hillcrest usually proves to be a stubborn foe at the Winget.


Three Rivers Bandits: Through last weekend the Bandits owned a sparkling 17-4-1 mark, including a 4-0 record against Bartlesville. But, the Indians have played the Bandits close twice.


Ft. Smith Sportsman: The Sportsman team has been perhaps the most successful team, overall, during the past decade at the Winget tourney.


Springfield Kickapoo: Kickapoo advanced just two summers ago to the Winget final. Last weekend, Kickapoo defeated Branson, 7-2.


Branson Pirates: The Pirates should perhaps wear the Cinderella label behind Three Rivers and Ft. Smith. The Pirates were 13-5 through Wednesday and coming off an 8-3 victory against the Glendale Falcons. Branson captured its lone Winget crown in 2015.


Oklahoma Mudcats: The Mudcats brought a 19-17 record into the tourney, including a signature win against the Enid Majors, 8-4.