TERRE HAUTE —
Consider Terre Haute North’s high school softball players party crashers at Saturday’s state championship games at your own risk.
Yes, the Patriots have eight losses, more than the other seven teams vying for titles at Ben Davis. Yes, North’s next appearance in the 2010 state rankings will be its first — although the Patriots will debut at No. 1 or No. 2 if another poll is taken.
But being overlooked and underappreciated is a formula that hasn’t bothered the Patriots one bit so far this season. Considering the Patriots are 8-1 against ranked opponents, in fact, maybe it’s a blessing.
They belong. They plan to prove that.
“We’ve kept a level head, and we didn’t let people get to us,” senior shortstop Danielle Ketner said this week. “We weren’t talked up a bunch, but coach [Jack Kirchner] says if you have to talk about yourself, then you’re obviously not that good.”
Part of the reason the Patriots flew under the radar for so long was their own fault, they admit. Four of their first five losses came to small-school teams (South Putnam, Bloomfield, Clay City and Rockville). While they’d like to have those games back, however, the Patriots are happy about what they learned from those games.
“We just shook it off. We didn’t think anything about [the losses],” said sophomore third baseman Marlee Yeager, adding she and her teammates learned “to keep our heads in the game the whole seven innings.”
“As a team, we weren’t very confident in ourselves at the beginning,” added second baseman Hailee Travioli, another sophomore. “The game that hit us hardest was Bloomfield, because we knew we should’ve won … but we learned not to go into a game expecting to win.”
“Through the whole season we stayed positive and stuck to our goals [Big Four, North-South game, Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference, sectional]” said junior catcher Kelsey Coffey. “And after that sectional, we wanted more so we kept going.”
“We got 15 hits against Rockville and lost, and we’d already got beat by Clay City and Bloomfield,” Kirchner recalled, “but we were still going for the tournament.”
And despite some of those surprising losses, Kirchner said, he and his coaching staff were gaining confidence in their team.
“After the first couple of games, coach [Chris] Mundy said, ‘We’ve got something special here,’ ” Kirchner remembers. “These girls have worked hard, and they get along well. They’ve all come together, and they know how to get on each other the right way.”
They also appear immune to pressure, their coach added.
“They do not get upset and they do not get uptight,” Kirchner said. “They’re relaxed a lot more than I am.
“Against South in the sectional, they had the bases loaded with one out and their No. 4 hitter at bat, and she’d already had two hits,” Kirchner said to support that point. “I went out there and told [pitcher] Bethany [Sullivan] not to give in to her. Bethany said, ‘She’s not getting another hit,’ and Hailee said, ‘One ground ball and we get a double play and we’re out of the inning.’
“Sure enough, almost before I got back to the dugout there was a grounder to third, Marlee stepped on the bag and threw to first for the double play, and when they came in Hailee said, ‘See what I told you?’ ”
“I like pumping people up. I don’t play very well when we’re all serious,” Travioli said this week.
“We’re pretty relaxed about the state, but it’s exciting,” Coffey agreed. “For us to make it this far from the way we started out the season is a plus.”
“It feels great. I’m pretty sure we can win it all,” said Yeager.
“Sectional was our first major hurdle, but once we got that nothing was stopping us,” said Sullivan, whose pitching is certainly one of the main reasons for that. “We haven’t known much about the teams we’ve played [in the regional and semistate], so we just play our game … and I’ve always trusted these girls behind me.”
Not only are Sullivan and Ketner the team’s only seniors, but nearly half its players are freshmen. So what the two seniors have done off the field is probably as important as their many contributions on it.
“We’ve tried to be leaders,” Sullivan said. “We try to make sure the younger girls knew they could come to us … and when you gain the respect of your teammates, I think you’ve done a good job as leaders.”
“They are a young group, but they will take in anything you can give them,” Ketner said of her teammates. “We are a group that wants to learn.
“There were some games we should have won that we didn’t, but there were some games we won that we shouldn’t have won too,” she added. “You take what you get and go with it.”
Now the two seniors get to complete their North careers in the spotlight.
“It’s really nice knowing that no matter what happens, this is the last game I get to play,” Sullivan said, “and there’s no better way I’d rather end the season than the state championship [game].”
“It’s awesome to be able to have this to end my senior year,” Ketner agreed. “Only one team gets to end their season with a win.”