To appreciate any journey toward winning a state championship, you have to flash back to the beginning of the season.
Keller’s softball team enjoyed the same run in 2016 when it captured the program’s third title. But when workouts began in January, Bryan Poehler wasn’t so sure if back-to-back was doable.
The Lady Indians had introduced a new pitcher in sophomore Dylann Kaderka. There were two freshmen with talent Poehler liked and believed in. He just wasn’t sure if the talent would translate as quickly at the top level of high school softball.
But programs like Keller have the long-established, trademark attitude that excuses are not acceptable. Finding ways to win and competing for the state championship are demanded.
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We were dealing with two rain and lightning delays. Dylann came out and struck the first three batters each time. It’s just a case of having the right mentality and that you’re not going to go halfway.
- Keller softball coach Bryan Poehler, on his sophomore pitcher’s poise
In the wee hours of Sunday, Keller’s parts all came together. Players hoisted the hardware and received gold medals with a 35-6 record following a 5-1 win over Austin Bowie. Winning championships is such a difficult thing, because there are so many internal and external roadblocks.
“How all of these new pieces would fit at the beginning of the season was going to be key,” Poehler said. “I’m not sure a state championship was what we had in the mind. But the players know the tradition. They understand this program has a long history of success. When we got to the third round of the playoffs, they felt like this thing was coming together.”
Winning programs are continuously successful because they don’t reinvent themselves season after season. They are consistent and make sure that the foundation of their way of going about their stays intact. They can change when necessary but not drastically.
They will also identify and enhance their strengths. Poehler preached 10 for 10s in everything these players did. If there was a routine ground ball, it must be fielded and thrown to the right base for the out. If there was a routine fly ball, it must be caught.
“If you don’t take care of the small things, there’s an opportunity that develops that’s going to get you beat,” Poehler said. “Once you find out what you’re good at, you make sure you stay there.”
A pitcher in his playing days, Poehler nursed and challenged Kaderka through the winter and spring. There were some rough edges. There always are with young pitcher. But he worked with her to refine her changeup. As that pitch became effective, the confidence grew. Batters’ eyes were fooled. Swings were either far too early or far too late.
Kaderka finished 30-5 and went 12-2 in the playoffs. Maybe the best of her best was in the title game against Austin Bowie.
“She just kept getting stronger,” Poehler said. “We were dealing with two rain and lightning delays. Dylann came out and struck the first three batters each time. It’s just a case of having the right mentality and that you’re not going to go halfway.”
With two years left for Kaderka, six rising seniors and a talent pipeline that doesn’t show any signs of weakening, talking of going for the unprecedented third consecutive championship is alive.
“We’ll come back ready to work,” Poehler said. “The young kids in this program want to pick up where we left off.”