YUKON — D’Antae Mitchell walked to the pitcher’s circle with the game on the line.
With his team clinging to a 4-3 lead with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Putnam City North softball coach convened with pitcher Monica Coats in search of a way to retire Yukon’s best hitter for the first time all night.
That hitter is one Mitchell knew quite well. It was his daughter, Ariah.
“I just told (Coats), ‘You’ve got to keep the ball up,’” D’Antae said. “You can’t keep it low, because it is going to be over that fence.”
And while a hit-by-pitch allowed Ariah Mitchell to reach base for the fourth time in the game, the Millers were unable to score the tying run and fell by that same 4-3 score Thursday night at Yukon High School.
The loss put a bit of a damper on Yukon’s senior night festivities, but the Mitchell’s were both thankful for the moments that were shared as a family.
“I think it was super special that we could be together on this night,” Ariah said.
Before the game, D’Antae briefly changed into a Yukon Millers T-shirt to help escort Ariah to the middle of the infield as her career accomplishments were read over the public-address system. Following the ceremony that honored Ariah and fellow seniors Brooke Flowers, Tori Hughes, Maty MacDowell, Rayann Moore and Natalie Slaughter, he quickly changed back into his PC North shirt.
“(Yukon) Coach (Katy) Hoke did a good job of allowing that to happen,” D’Antae said. “She didn’t have to. I am thankful for her for doing that, because even with regionals coming I am probably not going to be able to be there. I didn’t want to have to miss my game to go to her senior night.”
Ariah – the oldest of D’Antae’s four daughters – is in the middle of another fantastic season with the Millers. After batting .419 with 10 home runs and 63 runs batted in through her first three varsity seasons, the first baseman entered this week with a batting average of .551 with 38 hits, three home runs and 35 RBIs.
“All four years, she has become more coachable, she has become a smarter student of the game,” Hoke said. “She is more patient, more disciplined in all aspects. She is a quiet leader, but she leads by example all the time. Great student. Great, great person, individual. Loves her team.”
Mitchell collected two more base hits Thursday, including an RBI triple in the bottom of the sixth inning that cut Yukon’s deficit to 3-2.
A two-out triple by Central Oklahoma commit Ariah Mitchell scores Awbrey Dover from first base, and Yukon is within 3-2 of Putnam City North in the bottom of the sixth inning. #OKPreps pic.twitter.com/UToe46bJaG
— Douglas Miles (@douglasmilesCRG) September 22, 2023
A two-time first team all-conference performer and district player of the year in 2022, Mitchell announced in May her commitment to play collegiate softball at the University of Central Oklahoma, a program that has qualified for the NCAA Division-II national tournament 15 times over the past 22 years.
“All around, it just felt like home,” Mitchell said. “I love the coaches and that is where I knew I wanted to be.”
The UCO roster will provide some valuable familiarity as a pair of former Yukon preps – Kaylee Bradley and McKenna Johnson – are currently juniors with the Bronchos. As a freshman with the Millers in 2020, Mitchell was teammates with both players.
“It feels pretty good,” said Mitchell, who bats and throws left-handed. “They had an impact on my game. Both of them are very knowledgeable.”
Thursday night was the fourth time that D’Antae and Ariah had faced off at the varsity level.
“I’m 1-3,” D’Antae said. “She owns me.”
One might assume that competing against a loved one would prove difficult. And while it remains a unique challenge, the Mitchell’s prioritize effort and personal responsibility in performing one’s job.
“I have taught her and we have raised her that when she plays, it is competition time,” D’Antae said. “I know she wants to beat me, just like I want to beat her and we don’t lay down for nobody. And she knows. We keep it in the game and then after that, we love and hug each other and laugh and it is special. We work hard for this. And she works really, really hard for it.”
D’Antae helped mentor Ariah’s game beginning at age four with the Putnam City Optimist Sports Club. At age 10, Ariah progressed from recreational leagues to travel ball and flourished under coaches like Kit Watson and Scotty Smith, with D’Antae serving in an assistant role with clubs like Epic Fastpitch out of Norman.
As both D’Antae and Ariah forge ahead with their respective teams towards the end of the fast-pitch regular season, the opportunity to share a night like Thursday will likely resonate long after its conclusion.
“She was my first born and it was tough,” D’Antae said. “She is about to be 18 and I still treat her like she’s 12. I just can’t let go. You know how it is as a dad. I don’t want anything to happen to my baby. I know she has to go her own way. She is going to do great things.”
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma HS softball: Putnam City North beats Yukon in extra innings