The Polytech Panthers had tasted success at the division and conference levels over the last few seasons but weren’t able to make a deep run in the playoffs. However, this season they finished 17-1 and advanced to the State Championship Game making them the easy choice for Dover Post “Team of the Year” in softball.
After coming up short again and again, the Panthers finally found their groove in the playoffs in 2013. And for INF Kristen Ball, the Panthers’ run toward the State Championship Game couldn’t have come sooner.
“When we started getting deeper and deeper into the playoffs, the thought that went to our minds was ‘It’s about time!’,” said Ball. “We all knew what we were capable of, even two years ago when I was a freshmen the expectations were still the same.”
While expectations can be a double-edged sword at times, for Polytech the expectations put on themselves have become a key part to the program’s success. Since the beginning, they’ve only used losses as experience gainers and motivation, not as an opportunity to dwell on failures or make excuses.
“Our program has earned several honors in the past few years, including 2011 Division champs and 2012 Conference champs,” said Polytech Head Coach Jennifer Bradshaw. “As a whole the team has gained more confidence and will strive to go even further next year.”
Unfortunately, the Panthers were defeated in the Championship Game by a perfect effort on the mound, literally. Laurel’s Regan Green threw a perfect-game in a 3-0 win over the Panthers ending their season in heart-breaking fashion.
And even though the Panthers had been in this position before, losing in such a fashion in the biggest game of the year has to hurt. However, with the majority of the team returning next season, the Panthers are ready to use another loss as motivation to again take another step toward their ultimate goal.
“Falling just short of a State Championship will definitely fuel the fire for next year,” said Bradshaw. “We have a large group of returning players and they will certainly be working towards the goal of a State Championship next season.”
That kind of attitude is no surprise to Ball, who like many of her teammates is already looking forward to next season.
“Since our team is so competitive, I believe that drive to win a championship will never go away, it will always be strong,” said Ball. “Now our goal will be much more specific, to come in first.”
Standout OF Brandi Dalious echoed the comments of her coach and teammate, stating that they’ve already proven they can overcome adversity and they’re ready to do it again.
“I believe the team will be able to use this as motivation, just like we did when we lost in the quarterfinals the year before,” said Dalious. “We used that as our motivation to get to the championship.”
While the Panthers do have the majority of their team returning next season, they will be losing 4 key parts to their team. Four seniors, Alex Mycek, Tori Reed, Taylor Humphries and Lily Engel will all be moving on after graduating this year.
More than likely, some underclassmen will be stepping into the roles left behind by the exiting seniors. Ball will be one of only two seniors on next year’s squad along with Samantha Burns. Dalious, will be entering her junior season, but also her third season on the team. While both may be called upon to take up some leadership duties, they understand the importance of a strong leadership group.
“I hope to take over some leadership, but we have returners that I am sure will all step up and take a little bit of that leadership amongst each other,” said Dalious. “The seniors had a ton of impact, from keeping us up in the dugout, to always keeping us loose and having fun when it came to being on the field. They have made me want to be a better ball player out on the field, hopefully to lead us to our main goal.”
It won’t be easy to replace the players the Panthers will lose heading into next season. However, while the roster may appear to be young it will be packed with plenty of talent. Along with Dalious and Ball, standout pitcher Shaina Reed and freshmen Morgan Dodge are also returning.
The Panthers believe with the core listed above and returning underclassmen, they have the pieces necessary to not only return to the Championship Game, but win it this time around.
“I believe we do have the necessary pieces (to win a championship),” said Dalious. “We have some talented freshmen coming to Polytech next year, and I’m sure – even though we did lose some seniors – we won’t skip a beat.”