Shiner's path through the state tournament begins where it ended last year, and not much has changed.
The Shiner Lady Comanches welcome Bethany Nevlud at the plate after she hit a home run against Harleton in the UIL Class 2A State Championship game on June 4, 2015. Shiner won 3-0 to win its fifth state title in school history and Bethany Nevlud was selected as the championship game MVP.
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photo by Scott Julian, special to the Advocate
The lineup cards for the Class 2A state semifinal remain virtually the same as in 2015 for Shiner (29-5) and Harleton (33-4), who played for last season's championship.
The teams play their grudge match noon at Red & Charline McCombs Field at Texas-Austin. The other half of the 2A state bracket features Windthorst (32-3) and Crawford (26-5).
Shiner head coach Steven Cerny said the pressure is already off the Lady Comanches after they erased a 1-0 series deficit to beat Weimar in the Region IV-2A final best-of-three.
"I think there's a big relief because expectations were really high. Everybody said we're only losing two players," Cerny said. "We had to overcome injuries and a tough Weimar team (in the regional final), but we got through that.
"It's a big relief, but at the same time there's that excitement there because there's not a better feeling than playing in Austin."
Eight of the nine starters from Shiner's 2015 championship team return for a repeat attempt this year, including pitcher Cece Darilek. Darilek's counterpart, Harleton hurler Randi Carol Phillips, returns along with seven of her Lady Cats teammates who started the 2015 title game.
Shiner and Harleton faced only one common opponent in the regular season, both defeating Rosenberg Lamar Consolidated.
Shiner's losses include twice to 3A regional finalist Hallettsville, once to TAPPS 5A champion San Antonio Incarnate Word, once to Weimar in the regular season and again to Weimar in the first game of the Region IV-2A final.
"Honestly we've played very good teams this year, so I think we're prepared for (Harleton)," Cerny said. "We feel as prepared as ever."
Shiner lost to Hallettsville 8-0 on March 8 then fell 11-1 to the Lady Brahmas three days later. That pair of defeats, Cerny said, was crucial to Shiner's development.
"We learned we have to have a better approach and make sure we're putting the ball in play and eliminate strikeouts," Cerny said. "We worked on our two-strike approach and making sure we make the defense work with line drives and ground balls."
Phillips' pitching kept Harleton in the championship game last year with six strikeouts, four hits and one earned run. Of the 28 batters Phillips faced, she worked two-strike counts on 14 of them.
"We won, but (Phillips is) very solid," Cerny said. "She throws hard, in the low 60s, and has a good riseball. She definitely kept us off balance. We had timely hits but only scored three runs."
When Darilek's on the mound, Cerny said communication will be key. Anything the coach wants to tell his players, he'd better say before they take the field.
"Being here last year is definitely going to help. They're not going to hear me from the dugout because it gets really loud out there," Cerny said. "You can't really explain it unless you're there. On the field, it's unbelievably loud. You can hardly hear a coach talking right next to you."
Chris Derrett is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or firstname.lastname@example.org