Despite recent years of nothing less than success under coach Rachel Ford, the Lady Wildcats have not been able to get the big prize — a state title.
“I think it’s important to not approach it as the state championship or state tournament. I think we’ve used that term so often it freaks them out,” Ford said. “I mean, I’m a 31-year-old ballplayer that’s played all my life, and it freaks me out. You can’t approach it like that.
“We’ve put in the time and the practice and I think we need to just approach it like it’s every other game. It is just another game, but I know there’s a lot at stake.”
Sixth-ranked White Plains’ next chance comes against second-ranked Good Hope on Friday at 10:30 a.m. at Montgomery’s Lagoon Park. The teams played March 9 in the Wallace State-Hanceville tournament with Good Hope winning 4-2.
“It’s about changing your mindset. We know what it is, and everyone there knows what this is about,” Ford said. “You’d have to be crazy to not know what you’re showing up for this weekend. We know who will be there and we know we’ll get their best, but in the end, we’re not worried about them. We’re worried about us.”
White Plains (31-13) ended the season on a tear after falling short in the Calhoun County tournament after being the top seed. The Lady Wildcats lost to ninth-seed Alexandria in the second round and in the semifinals of the elimination bracket.
“County was a milestone in our journey. If we would have played well, we wouldn’t have been the same,” senior center fielder Mikayla Owen said. “We practiced right after that tournament and there was a completely different mindset. We knew we had to come to work and that any team can be beaten.”
The transition in White Plains’ game has produced a 12-game winning streak, including sweeps of the area tournament and the South Central Regional, beating No. 3 Glencoe, No. 10 Leeds and No. 7 Saks along the way.
“Every team peaks at a certain point, and ours is going to this weekend,” junior shortstop Sophie Taylor said. “Last season, we peaked too early, and this year it’s going to be just right.”
And yet, entering the Class 3A state tournament, it’s hard not to be reminded of how last season’s tournament ended. White Plains was eliminated after three games, while Saks, which held an 0-8 record against White Plains for the season, went on to win the championship.
“We were capable of beating them, and for them to win was like taking our heart out,” Owen said. “We worked so hard and just gave it away.”
Transition back to 2013 and White Plains is fully healthy with “all guns firing,” Ford said. The team chemistry is high and most of the players are extremely familiar with the tournament after two trips in as many years. And the mental aspect is what Ford said sets this team apart from others.
“I think our mindset is we have to get better and we realize that the past few years we haven’t finished it,” sophomore pitcher Anna Snider said. “So what if we win area and regionals? We realize that’s not our big goal. We’re working on what we need to work on this week to get there.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.