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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

Eagles race toward chance at perfection

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Jenny Thompson [Order this photo]
Individual commitment to a group effort -- that is what makes a team work.

-- Vince Lombardi

Lombardi's quote might belong in the world of football, but it fits perfectly when describing the South Putnam softball team. When looking at the Eagles on paper, it's easy to point out an extensive list of outstanding athletes. But if they didn't fight as one in every contest, they could very well be one in a long list of teams that have failed to live up to expectations.

South Putnam, however, has met its high expectations and proved that when a person or collective of persons put their mind to a task, greatness is attainable.

The Eagles are 30-0 entering Saturday's IHSAA Class 2A State Championship game and head coach Chris Jones said it's exciting to have the opportunity to repeat as a state champion.

"It's just exciting to know how hard the girls have worked to get to this point and get another chance," Jones said. "We have a great opportunity to do some things that haven't been done before, but the thing is we have to do it one pitch at a time, one inning at a time. We can't think about all those other things, it's about what we want to try to accomplish this year."

The Eagles will face off against Adams Central in the title game and are looked at as the heavy favorites. The Jets are 20-12 and have experienced two four-game losing streaks this season. However, Adams Central is currently riding a 10-game winning streak, including knocking of No. 2 Rochester in the semi-state.

Jones said the Jets pose a challenge due to their aggressiveness and their willingness to make their opponent make the mistake.

"They are a good team and they're making a nice run in the tournament," Jones said. "For what I've been able to gather from other people, the thing they've been able to do is put the ball in play and make you make a mistake. They take advantage of mistakes just like we do on teams as well. The biggest thing for us is to make the play when given the opportunity and not let them have an extra at-bat or move a runner when they shouldn't.

"If we can just make that routine play like we've done all year, I think we'll be fine. I've heard they're aggressive at the plate, so they're going to come out swinging, so we have to be ready for them to put the ball in play."

While the record looks great, it's not been an easy road back to the state finals. The Eagles have fought through injuries, including the loss of starting shortstop Emily Dabkowski in the sectional championship game. Jones said it was a testament to the resolve of his team.

"It just shows how much of a true family these girls are and they have their backs through everything and that's great to see," he said. "We worked through all different kinds of adversity and to be able to see them fight through that in the sectional and get a win without Emily and putting different girls in different spots. That's huge for our team."

The team has been able to post some great team wins this season and Jones noted it was with different people stepping up to get the big hit or make a key play in the field.

If South Putnam prevails Saturday, they will become only the third team to post back-to-back championships and the first ever to do so in Class 2A. They also could make some more history along the way as well.

"If we could pull it off we would be the first to win back-to-back and go undefeated in that second season, which would be its own amazing accomplishment," Jones said.

Equally amazing is the four-year run the Eagles are on. In four seasons, South Putnam has a record of 101-4. Jones said their success is due to the fact that the team takes everything one game at a time.

"The biggest thing is these girls don't underestimate any opponent they play," Jones said. "They come focused and ready to play every single game. And to get a record like that, you have to come focused every game. You can't have a letdown and they haven't. It's one more game, one more chance to keep that same focus and do something absolutely amazing. Something that's not been done in Putnam County, let alone very few times in state history."

Jones said Saturday would be a lot like last year. He said the team would be focused and ready to go once the lineups are announced and the first pitch flies.

"I think it's going to be like every other game in the aspect of they have to prepare the same type of way. (They will need to) get themselves mentally focused and ready to go," Jones said. "We're going to have a very similar routine that we had last year when we went there, so nothing in that aspect is going to be new.

"It's all about them being rested, hydrated, relaxed and ready to go take care of business and have a little fun at the same time. From being at practice this week and seeing their mental approach and seeing the way they've been able to get ready, I think they're ready and excited to get up there and get a chance to play Adams Central," he said.

Asked whether winning the school's first state title or repeating as state champions presented more pressure, Jones said the team has had to perform at a high level under a microscope their entire career, so pressure is something they've learned to deal with.

"You know, it's hard to say," Jones said. "It's a different type of pressure. I think these girls have had pressure on them since they were young because people thought they were going to win a state championship. And then to get it, I know that can relieve some pressure.

"To come back the next year and start the preseason No. 1, you've been No. 1 all year and the target's been on your back. I think you've lived with that pressure, so maybe it makes it just another game in that aspect because it's not any different than any other game you've played in as far as you're expected to win.

"That's what people expect out of us. Let's go out there and play our best ballgame and see what happens," Jones said.

Although a state title is on the line Saturday, the Eagles will approach it like every other contest.

"The thing is it's a game," Jones said. "There's going to be a big crowd. It's going to be a lot of fun. Putnam County is going to come out and support us like I know they have all year. That makes it fun and these girls deserve that type of support and those types of accolades because of what they've accomplished.

"Regardless of what happens Saturday, they've had tremendous careers and a tremendous season, but it won't taste as sweet without that win," Jones said with a smile.

South Putnam will face Adams Central at 1:30 p.m. Saturday for the Class 2A State Championship at Ben Davis High School.