When the Twin River Titans 12 & Under softball team started practicing in February, there was a lot of new faces for head coach Renae Van Driel, in her second year of coaching the team, to learn.
With a mostly new roster, Van Driel wasn't quite sure how well the team would do.
Those questions were quickly answered when the team started playing games in April. Just a few months later, the Titans won the state tournament on June 16 in Beatrice finishing the season 27-16.
"It’s just been a fun experience,” she said. "Just like any young girls, they’re still learning the game and learning the fundamentals. At the beginning of the year, we were kind of rocky. I just loved how this team was very coachable. They took to heart a lot of the info that I gave them, and they just kept listening and kept learning and towards the end of the year when I told them, ‘That’s when everything really matters.’
"We just put everything together, and all 14 girls from top to bottom of the lineup made something happen. It was just a fun experience to really watch that team mature fundamentally and also as a team, as a family."
The Titans not only won the USSSA Class C State tournament, but placed second in the York tournament and first in the silver bracket of the Kearney tournament earlier in the season.
Van Driel was pleasantly surprised with how Twin River came together. The team picked up the game a lot quicker than what was expected.
"(I was) a little bit (surprised), just since I didn’t have quite as many return 12 and under players so a lot of them were fresh to me and also being first time or first year that I got to coach them," she said. "So, just getting to understand them and for them to understand what I expected out of them I thought would probably take a little longer but these girls really picked up on my expectations and performed well early on the season in our couple of tournaments."
Going into the state tournament, Twin River was on a roll and felt it was in a good position, but reality hit hard in a first-round pool play loss to Beatrice Velocity, 2-0.
"I felt like we were really vibing together. I thought we were going to have a lot of success, but then going into the tournament we lost the very first game," Van Driel said. "It was close. It was kind of rough and I think the girls kind of sunk a little bit."
The team didn't let the defeat keep them down for long. Just three hours after the first game had started, the girls rebounded to defeat Suburban Legends 8-0 and proceeded to go on a six-game winning streak including a rematch against Beatrice to win the championship.
"We just kept talking about that we weren’t done and there was always the next game that we always have to think into the future and that we have to put the past behind us, our errors behind us and keep moving forward if we wanted to accomplish the goal at the end of the weekend," Van Driel said. "They just kept doing that. They kept fighting.
"There was a couple times in a couple of the other games that things didn’t go our way but this team fought to the end and kept fighting until the umpire said it was game over and we ended up winning all the rest of the games that tournament."
There were 14 players on the team and all of them played a key part in the championship season.
"I think what makes me pretty proud of this team is we had 14 girls, which is a lot, and every one of those girls contributed to this team," Van Driel said. "From either playing on the field or something that they executed with the bat, or even their spirit and their energy when they were in the dugout. I just really appreciate how all 14 of these girls were there to win and to play together. I just thought that was awesome."
Peter Huguenin is a sports reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org