A second year program. First-year coach. Boulder McKinney wasn’t exactly sure what to expect heading into the Houston Lady Tigers’ 2008 softball season.
Looking back, it’s safe to say his – and likely the rest of the community’s – expectations were easily exceeded.
Following an important but often times difficult inaugural season, Houston made great strides this past season under McKinney. The Lady Tigers went 6-3, establishing a winning record for a young team that was playing for the right to keep the program alive.
“The main thing was to work hard and be competitive every game, and I think we did that,” McKinney said. “From the way I was told last year went, I think a lot of improvement was made.”
It started the very first game of the season.
Facing a Hartville team it had been soundly beaten by the previous season, the Lady Tigers jumped out to a 6-0 lead. The advantage vanished in the fourth inning, but Bethany Korte’s fifth-inning sacrifice fly gave Houston a 7-6 road victory and set the tone for what would become a memorable season.
After the first of two losses to Plato, the Lady Tigers started a three-game winning streak with a road victory at Newburg. They followed with easily their best performance of the season – a 17-2 thumping of Laquey – and hard-fought 20-18 win at Seymour.
“The Laquey game, our bats really came around and we made some good defensive plays,” McKinney said. “That was the moment I thought we were a pretty solid ballclub.”
Following a 13-4 loss at Eminence – the only game McKinney said he was disappointed in his team’s effort – and 14-9 defeat to Plato, the Lady Tigers ended their season with consecutive victories against Conway and Winona.
“You could see as the season went along that the confidence rose each game,” McKinney said. “We had some tough setbacks with two losses to Plato and a tough Eminence team, but the girls bounced back from each one of them.”
Reflecting on the 2008 campaign, McKinney said the season-opening victory at Hartville may have been the biggest win of the year.
“It probably set the tone for the season,” he said. “I realized later down the line how big of a win that was.”
McKinney, an assistant football coach, took the reigns of the softball team from Beth Heim, who moved out of the district after one year. Having no experience coaching softball, he leaned heavily on high school baseball coach Brent Hall and his assistant, Sandy Cremer, for practice ideas and strategy.
McKinney said his job was made easier by the team’s three seniors: Whitney Sillyman, Amber Postlewait and Stephanie Dukes.
Sillyman, who was named team MVP, was among the team leaders in all offensive categories. Postlewait was the team’s top pitcher and started every game. Dukes, the starting center fielder, was the Lady Tigers’ top defensive player.
But more important than their on-field talents was the leadership they provided off the field, McKinney said.
“All three of them were leaders in their own ways,” he said. “Whitney is an all-around team player and led by example. It was the same way for Stephanie. Amber was our motivational leader and was always positive, even when she was having a bad game on the mound.”
Although Houston will lose three key players, the Lady Tigers have plenty of pieces returning for what looks to be the start of a string of successful seasons.
Korte, who led the team in runs, steals and on-base percentage, and Shelbi Moore, the team’s batting average leader and shortstop, will return. Also back is catcher Paulette Chernowsky, who started as a freshman, and RBI leader Lyndsey Tarrants.
The team, which was formed on a two-year trial basis and privately funded, was given a permanent home in the Houston athletic program by the school board earlier this year. It appears they chose a winner.
“As young as we were – having just three seniors and not many more juniors – the future is bright for this program,” McKinney said.