Last season, the roles were reversed.
Millard West was the hottest team in softball, losing once in the regular season.
In came Omaha Benson — first trip to the state tournament in school history — and the Bunnies knock off the Wildcats 5-4 in nine innings. Millard West’s season ended later that day with a 12-11 loss to Grand Island.
This year, the Wildcats limped to the finish line, losing three of four games to enter district play at 12-10.
But they got hot at the right time, defeating Lincoln North Star twice in the District A-5 tournament to run the school’s streak of appearances in the Class A state tournament to six.
Now the Wildcats have a chance to play spoiler against a team that has one loss.
They’ll face top seed Papillion-La Vista in Wednesday’s first-round game at 2 p.m. at Smith Softball Complex in Hastings.
“We are playing more with a passion and a fire, and I think that helped us in districts,” Millard West coach Don Brummer said. “We’re glad to be back there. It’s been a long journey, but it’s an eight-team tournament and anything can happen there.”
Few know that better than Brummer. Though it could be used as a rallying cry against a Papio team with a deep lineup and solid pitching, Brummer is not interested in visits from ghosts of tournaments past.
“We will approach the state tournament this year the same way we have every year, and that’s just literally one pitch, one play at a time,” Brummer said. “We will just worry about ourselves and do our best to play to our ability. Whatever happens, happens.”
Millard West is 5-5 in games decided by two runs or less, including a 4-3 setback to the Monarchs on Sept. 16.
A team meeting before districts reset the Wildcats’ record to 0-0 in the minds of players and coaches. Brummer said it also helped three players step up and guide the team through three games.
Emily Klosterman, Katie Heard and Kristen Van Hoosen helped set the tone for the Wildcats during district play. Brummer said Klosterman and Heard were strong at the plate while Van Hoosen made the difference pitching.
“If we’re going to be successful at the state tournament, she’s our kid in the circle,” Brummer said. “Everybody played more with a passion and a fire.”
That change in mindset also made a difference in how the Wildcats will approach state.
“The biggest thing for us is we’re playing to win and not playing not to lose,” Brummer said. “Our kids are resilient, they just keep working. Now is when it counts, and that’s how we started things this week.”