The gold medals were nice. The trophy was pretty neat, too.
Shiner's State Championship Softball team arrives at Welhausen Park on the fire truck for the celebration honoring their victory over Bosqueville on May 31st. photo by Scott Baer
But the reward the Shiner softball team cherished the most came later Saturday. Shortly after returning to town from Austin, the Lady Comanches went for the ride of their lifetimes.
"The first thing I said after we won was ‘I get to ride the fire truck,’" junior second baseman Alyssa Strauss said.
By beating Bosqueville in Saturday’s Class 1A state championship softball game, the Lady Comanches earned the right to ride through the town on Shiner’s fire truck, as friends and family cheered along the streets of the tiny Lavaca County community known worldwide for its brewery and statewide for its athletes.
The privilege is reserved only for the town’s state champions. Three Shiner softball teams (2001, ’02 and ’08), three baseball teams (1981, ’92 and 2004), and two football teams (1986 and 2004) have brought home state titles and been granted immortal status within the city limits.
Most of this year’s softball players were among those on the streets cheering for the 2001 and ’02 softball teams as they toured the town.
"Ever since we were little kids, we wanted to do the exact same thing," said junior pitcher Heather Haas, who was named the Class 1A tournament’s Most Valuable Player. "I would watch them and say to myself that I wanted to be on that fire truck."
It’s the reward from a town that possesses an unparalleled passion for sports and one that sets the bar very high for its high school athletes. Shiner is annually ranked among the state’s Top 25 teams in football, baseball and softball. Many seasons, anything less than a state title has been a disappointment.
The Shiner Lady Comanches celebrate Saturday after winning the Class 1A state softball title in Austin. photos by T.C. Baker, Advocate Staff Photographer
"The expectations are always high in Shiner," softball coach Brandon Siegel said. "The pressure to win is always there."
The Lady Comanches reached the state tournament in 2006 but lost in the semifinals. Last season, Shiner suffered a heartbreaking 4-1 loss to Bosqueville in the state title game. Haas took a 1-0 lead into the sixth inning before surrendering a grand slam.
Haas and the other Lady Comanches felt they had disappointed their teammates, coach, families, friends and an entire town.
"We let the town down," Strauss said. "But, mainly, we let ourselves down."
This season, the Lady Comanches motivated by last year’s loss in the championship game, rode support from the town throughout the season and got stronger as they got deeper into the playoffs.
Shiner outscored opponents 45-2 in its playoff games leading to the state tournament. Then, in Austin, the Lady Comanches dominated their state tournament foes in record-breaking fashion.
"We didn’t want to go back home with a silver medal," junior center fielder Ieisha Flowers said. "The whole town wanted a gold medal. Everyone kept telling us the third time was the charm."
Paige Michalec dives back to first after Bosqueville’s catcher missed the tag at home.
When Morgan Ullmann came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning with an opportunity to drive in Haas from third base with the game-ending run, the Shiner crowd of about 600 fans rose to its feet.
When Haas crossed the plate on Ullmann’s fielder’s choice groundout, you could sense a collective sigh of relief from the players, coaches and everyone else wearing purple and gold at McCombs Field.
"We’re definitely happy that we are not going home with that same feeling we had the last two years," Haas said.
Bobby Strauss, Alyssa’s father and the softball team’s most vocal supporter, was relieved for his daughter and his town after Saturday’s victory.
"Finally, we got the monkey off our back," said Strauss, whose stepdaughter, Chelsea Lauer, was a member of the 2001 and ’02 state championship softball teams. "Last year was a real heartbreaker. Being No. 2 was tough. No. 1 is great."
Not that the citizens of Shiner ever need an excuse to celebrate, but Bobby Strauss predicted there would be a more-festive-than-usual atmosphere around town Saturday night.
After all, Shiner is, once again, the home of champions.
"I know they’re gassing up the fire truck right about now," he said minutes after Saturday’s victory. "They better be brewing more beer today, too."