SHINER - As 8th-graders, Alyssa Strauss, Paige Michalec and Heather Haas thought they and several of their classmates might do something special on the softball field once they got into high school.
Three years later, they are not disappointed.
Strauss, Michalec, Haas and five other members of their junior class will start in today's Class 1A state semifinal game against Maud (25-10) at McCombs Field. This will be the third straight year Shiner's "Super-8" have led the Lady Comanches to Austin.
"We knew we were kind of a special group," Strauss said.
"We all competed with each other in Little League. We were anxious to get to high school."
"I didn't want to sound too confident, but I remember telling my mom way back then that we would make it to state," Michalec said.
Strauss (second base), Michalec (shortstop) and Haas (pitcher) will be joined on the field today by classmates Ieisha Flowers (center field), Lauren Michalec (right field), Morgan Ullmann (left field), Taylor Hajek (first base) and Amber Shimek (third base).
Catcher Holly Haas, a freshman, will be the only non-junior on the field.
"The juniors are the core of this team," Shiner coach Brandon Siegel said. "But all 18 are special. They all have a role."
Shiner struggled to a losing record in 2005 before the current junior class guided the Lady Comanches to the state tournament in 2006 and '07.
Shiner fell 6-2 to Clyde Eula in the semifinals in '06 and last year reached the championship game, where the Lady Comanches lost 4-1 to Bosqueville.
"The past two years making it there and coming up short has been tough to swallow," Siegel said. "It was right there in our grasp, but it slipped away."
Last year's loss was most painful for the Lady Comanches. They took a 1-0 lead into the sixth inning before Bosqueville's Raygan Feight hit a game-winning grand slam.
"We shouldn't have been in that situation," Siegel said of trying to protect a 1-0 lead. "We left quite a few runners on base."
Stranding runners on base has been something that has plagued the Lady Comanches (22-6) this postseason.
"Coach has really been on us about that," Strauss said. "He always tells us we have to score runs to win."
"We just have to play our game," Heather Haas said. "We have to play to win and not play not to lose."
Heather Haas will take a 22-5 record and 0.79 ERA into today's game. She has struck out 261 batters in 151 innings while walking only 30 and is also batting .423 with a team-high six home runs and 35 RBIs.
Hajek (.461, 32 RBIs), Shimek (.351, 11 RBIs) and Strauss (.321,18 RBIs), Paige Michalec (.250,18 RBIs), Ullmann (.286, 18 RBIs), Lauren Michalec (.288, 12 RBIs) and Holly Haas (.288, 12 RBIs) are Shiner's other top run producers.
Maud, which has won 14 of its last 15 games, is making its first trip to the state tournament and is led by freshman pitcher Kara Sutton, who is 18-4 with 114 strikeouts in 108 innings.
Ashley Foster (.430), Taylor Montgomery (414) and Amanda Wright (.408) are Maud's top hitters.
The Shiner-Maud winner will face either Clyde Eula or Bosqueville in Saturday's 8:30 a.m. championship game. Heather Haas said she and her teammates will consider anything but a state title a disappointment this year.
"We've all wanted it since we were little," she said. "Our parents talk about it. All our relatives talk about it. The whole town talks about it. Everybody wants it."