SHINER - The pressure to repeat as state champion is not what fuels the 2012 Shiner softball team. It's the expectation to sustain the success of previous Shiner sports programs that drives this year's Comanches as they prepare for the playoffs.
A fun fact about this year's Comanches - they feel they are closer than the 2011 championship squad said seniors Stacey Perez and Jordan Pietsch.
"We joke around and the coaches joke around with us," said Perez, a center fielder. "We know how to get work done and we have a good time at the same time."
Shiner enters Tuesday's Class 1A bi-district game against Burton with an 11-7 record after finishing third in District 28-1A. Head coach Brandon Siegel said not having a first-round bye will help his team because is has improved throughout the season with in-game experience.
Shiner lost both district games to Ganado by a combined three runs. But in those losses, they scored 15 runs. Siegel, as well as his two seniors Pietsch and Perez said the Comanches hitting and fielding have been areas of strength the entire season.
"Defense is our strong point," Perez said. "We have good hitters, but our defense is something we're better at. Our whole practice is primarily defense."
Six starters return with the hope of winning consecutive state titles for the second time in school history.
Hannah Koenning returned from an ACL injury to take over the catching duties, senior Cassie Stafford is the new right fielder and underclassmen Julianna Rankin and Tamara Hajek split the pitching duties.
There is no Ashley Shimek to come riding out the bullpen to save the Comanches this year, and that's not a problem. Shimek was an unblemished 24-0 last year in the pitching circle for Shiner.
"There is no one big key (player). They pick each other up and go from there. We have a lot of team chemistry from last year. But it does hurt because of the pressure," Siegel said about trying to live up to the 2011 standard. "We have the expectations, but we won't put pressure on them."
Pietsch said the standards the team has placed on itself exceed anything Siegel, the community or anyone else could place on it. Pietsch's sister Courtney was on the 2001 and 2002 teams that won a state title. The first baseman was a manager on the 2008 championship team, and started for Siegel last year.
Pietsch said the four seniors in the starting lineup have tried to inspire and pass along those expectations to freshmen like Hajek, Alex Flynn and Kremling and the three sophomores in the starting lineup.
"The younger players look up to you and you want to do the right thing when they are not watching and even when they are," she said. "To finish up my senior year with another state title would be extremely awesome."
Will Brown is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate.
Contact him at 361-580-6508, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.