SHINER - Maci Schaefer, Courtney Frank and Megan Cejka had to discuss a sore subject Wednesday.
The Shiner Lady Comanches meet before they begin Wednesday morning's practice. Shiner takes on Clyde Eula in today's Class 1A state semifinals. Coy Slavik, Victoria Advocate
Schaefer, Frank and Cejka were members of Shiner's softball team that compiled a 3-14 record last year and did not make the playoffs. It was a difficult season for the three players and first-year coach Brandon Siegel, who had taken over a program of very high expectations.
"It was definitely a long year," Schaefer said. "We had plenty of experience, but nothing would click for us last year."
"It was really frustrating," Siegel said. "I always had to stay positive with them so they didn't get a bad taste of softball in their mouths."
Fortunately for Siegel and his returning Lady Comanches, help was on the way.
Seven freshmen won starting spots in Shiner's starting lineup and have led the Lady Comanches to their sixth state tournament appearance. Shiner (20-4-1) will face Clyde Eula (25-5) in today's Class 1A semifinals at 8:30 a.m. at McCombs Field on the campus of the University of Texas. The winner will play the survivor of today's 11 a.m. semifinal between Collinsville (26-1) and Dallardsville Big Sandy (18-4) for the state title Saturday at 8 a.m.
Shiner will be the only team in any classification at the state tournament without a senior on its roster and seven freshmen in its starting lineup. Pitcher Heather Haas, shortstop Alyssa Strauss, center fielder Ieisha Flowers, right fielder Morgan Ullman, left fielder Paige Michalec, first baseman Taylor Hajek and designated hitter Amber Shimek all made immediate impacts from the start.
Haas goes into the state tournament with a 19-3 record and 1.06 ERA and is batting .355 with two home runs and 17 RBIs. Flowers leads the team in batting (.444), home runs (6) and RBIs (28) and, along with freshman classmates Strauss (.253), Ullman (.296), Michalec (.337), Hajek (.298) and Shimek (.434), has given Haas plenty of offensive support.
"They were very experienced to begin with," Siegel said of his freshmen, who have played summer ball together. "They have matured some physically, but they have really matured mentally with the game. They are more patient at the plate and make the plays in the field."
The arrival of the seven freshmen not only gave the Lady Comanches more talent, but also helped team morale.
"I didn't want to quit last year, because I wasn't brought up that way," said Frank, Shiner's starting third baseman. "But we have so much better team chemistry this year."
"It was good to know last year that we had some good players on the way," said Schaefer, the Lady Comanches' catcher who is batting .333 with 17 RBIs and two homers.
"I think our team works harder this year," said Cejka, the team's starting second baseman. "I don't know. Something just clicked."
The Lady Comanches continued clicking into the playoffs. They beat opponents by an average of over nine runs per game in the postseason before beating Bosqueville 6-3 in last week's regional final.
"Last year, I couldn't do anything right and now it seems I can't do anything wrong," Siegel said. "Making the state tournament was a goal, but I didn't think it would be a reality simply because of how young we are."
Still, Siegel had enough confidence in his young Lady Comanches on the first day of practice to make a subtle, yet bold, prediction.
"The first day of practice was really hot," Schaefer recalled. "He just told us it was going to be even hotter on June 1, so we'd better be ready."
SHINER NOTES: Siegel hasn't been able to find much information on Clyde Eula. "All I know is they have a pretty decent little pitcher, but she's not too overpowering," Siegel said.
Schaefer was a manager on the Shiner teams that won state titles in 2001 and '02. "It was so much fun. I always wanted to win one for myself," said Schaefer, who was a middle schooler at the time. "Now just thinking about going there, I get goose bumps."
The Lady Comanches will be making their sixth state tournament appearance. Only Class 2A Coahoma, making its seventh state tournament appearance this year, has more. ... Clyde Eula is making its first trip to Austin.