The Wrightstown softball team felt out of place at the start of the season.
The Tigers were returning a majority of their lineup from the squad that had made a remarkable run to the WIAA Division 2 sectional finals the year before.
But the confidence they should have had wasn’t there at first, playing 700 miles from home against state tournament teams from Tennessee and Kentucky at the end of March.
“Down at Tennessee we definitely got a taste of what it’s like to lose,” Wrightstown junior center fielder Brooke Linzmeier said. “I think that was good for us, coming off such a great season and making it so far. It was important.”
The Tigers (22-4) believe the challenges they faced at the beginning of the season will help them make another deep postseason run this year.
Wrightstown hosts Waupaca on Tuesday in a D2 regional quarterfinal game. It’s a rematch of a May 5 nonconference game, which the Tigers won 4-3 in nine innings.
Like last year, the Tigers received a No. 3 seed after going undefeated in the Olympian Conference and extending their conference winning streak to 35 games.
“Their focus level was high all year,” Wrightstown coach Brad Linzmeier said. “The experience they gained through that run last year makes them a little bit more poised this year even though we are still young.”
Wrightstown is the biggest school and only D2 team in the Olympian, so the level of competition it faces for a majority of the season usually comes into question at playoff time.
The Tigers played like they had a chip on their shoulder last year when they beat four Bay Conference teams before falling to state runner-up New London.
This year, the Tigers have been playing with a chip on their shoulder and sparkling bows in their hair.
The Wrightstown players got them after going 2-3 during their trip to Tennessee.
“We got there and all these teams had bows,” said Brooke Linzmeier, who has a .414 batting average and 13 RBIs this season. “We were like, ‘Well, we don’t have any bows.’ We were kind of the oddballs out there.”
The flashy bows actually serve as a reminder for the Tigers that they are the same as every other team — equally capable of beating or losing to anyone.
“(Coach) always said that teams will be coming at us like it’s the state championship in our conference because they looked at us as the team to beat,” said Wrightstown junior shortstop Carlie Servais, who has a .378 batting average and 29 RBIs.
“We had to be on our A-game every single game. (Coach) held us up to that because even if we won, but we didn’t play as well as we could play, he would hold us accountable.”
Makayla Neinas has continued to hold opponents in check. The sophomore right-hander made 106 strikeouts while posting a 1.69 ERA over 1021/3innings.
Neinas also has recorded a team-high 48 RBIs and six home runs. Danielle Nennig, another sophomore, has a team-high 25 stolen bases from the leadoff spot.
Sage Tanck’s ability to adjust to a different spot this season has perhaps been the biggest factor to the team’s continued success.
Tanck moved from second base to catcher to replace Ali Verbeten, who was one of two seniors last year. Tanck and Kayla Hill are the only two seniors on this year’s team.
Tanck leads the team in batting average (.443), on-base percentage (.570), runs (38) and walks (21).
“She has improved so much in her position,” Servais said. “It has really given our whole team a sense of confidence because we know that she has our backs in anything.”
The Tigers sustained their first loss against a Wisconsin team last week when they fell to De Pere. Neinas missed the game with the flu, but the loss was a reminder of how quickly their season could end in the playoffs if they lose their focus.
“It’s hard being so close,” Brooke Linzmeier said about last year. “It kind of crushes your sail. It didn’t really hit us until after how close we were.
“Our goal is to make it as far as we did last year, but not have to feel the same way we did on that bus ride home. I definitely think we have that capability.”