What does a team do for an encore to a state championship, the first such title the state has handed out in a sport in over 20 years?
According to Mead slowpitch softball coach Tiffany Casedy, you start over.
“New team, new season, new dream and new goals,” she said.
Last season, the Panthers – somewhat surprisingly – rode a 15-5 record and the No. 2 seed from the Greater Spokane League through the newly instituted state slowpitch tournament, downing Ferris in the semifinal and Central Valley in the title game to capture the championship.
Mead outscored its opponents 36-3 in the tourney.
But a new season brings different challenges. Casedy said she’s tried to get her squad to focus at the task at hand rather than dwell on wins that happened in the past.
“We’ve kind of put (the state title) in the back of our minds and we’ve started a new season,” she said on Tuesday after Mead topped CV 12-2. “So we’ve put that behind us and we’re striving for the next thing.”
Junior slugger Peyton Cushner said the players have tried to concentrate on the game itself.
“Going in to the season not thinking about being state champions was a big part of our early winning streak,” she said.
Senior infielder Sadie Bocook agreed.
“What our team tries to do is think about each game individually,” she said. “Game by game, instead of looking into the future. Not to be cocky about it, but our goal is to win each and every game that we play.”
Casedy said if the other teams in the league have treated Mead any differently this season, she hasn’t noticed.
“As far as other teams toward us, I feel like they’re doing the same thing,” she said. “New season, new teams. A lot of people have a lot of freshmen incoming this year. It’s a different dynamic every year. We take it as brand new and go from there.”
Mead is 10-4 with six games to play. The Panthers are in third place in the league, one-half game behind Mt. Spokane (10-3). University sits atop the table at 13-0 after an 11-8 win over Mt. Spokane on Tuesday.
CV (8-5), Rogers (7-5), East Valley (6-6) and Lewis and Clark (6-6) loom should any of the top teams falter.
“It’s been a ride actually so far,” Casedy said.
Casedy described a period in mid-September when the Panthers lost four of five games, including one to each of the other top teams in the league.
“It’s one of those things where we had a rough week a couple of weeks ago where it was U-Hi, Mt. Spokane, then we had Rogers – all the top three – they’re all up there right now. So mentally we had to learn a lot that week. And learn how to overcome that.”
Casedy said the challenge was to find a unifying call for her team out of the adversity.
“Our theme from that week has been ‘fight.’ Fight, fight, fight. We have this goal, we have this dream. And it’s all the little things that build into a big thing.”
She said that her team would love to get back to the state tournament to defend its title, but it has to get the league sorted out first.
“We know that we’re good, but sometimes it’s that drive and that fight that you’re looking for,” she said. “So that’s what we’ve been working on a lot this year.”
Casedy has been proud of the way the Panthers have responded to the call to fight. They broke out of the losing stretch with a doubleheader sweep of Gonzaga Prep, followed by a shutout of Ferris and the statement win over CV this week.
Casedy said the win over CV, particularly, was a big shot of confidence for her club.
“This was a huge boost,” she said. “And we have Mt. Spokane (Thursday), so just the confidence of how we’ve been playing and how we’ve been fighting these last two weeks will really drive that.
“That’s a really big game for (our team). So all that confidence will just boost them and drive them. They know what they are capable of so it’s just a matter of getting it done.”
With four games separating six teams in the league, Mead knows there can’t be any more letdowns as it plays down the stretch.
“The second half of the season we know how important it is for us because if we lose we won’t go to the playoffs,” Cushner said.
“We’re focused on playoffs and just even getting there,” Casedy said. “Whether it’s that 1-2 seed where we’d have that first-round bye or it’s fighting from below and up. My girls are ready to roll.”
Bocook and Cushner are Casedy’s 3-4 hitters in the lineup and provide a lot of the pop in the offense.
Cushner hit two homers in a 12-0 win over Ferris on Monday and added a three-run clout against CV on Tuesday. Bocook is the team’s RBI leader.
Cushner’s shot against CV was a no-doubt-about-it blast pulled down the left-field line.
“Coach always tells me to try to go ‘oppo’ because I always try to pull the ball every time,” Cushner said.
But sometimes you have to go with what works.
“I’ve tried like, you know, ‘Happy Gilmore-ing’ it and going ‘oppo,’ but it came inside so I just turned on it. I just try to find a pitch to hit. I go up to every at-bat knowing I’m going to hit it and knock it out. I hit it and run hard and try to catch up to Sadie (on the basepaths).”
Bocook said the group of six seniors is as close as sisters.
“I’ve played with them for multiple years, even before high school ball, so I know them really well. I know what type of players they are,” she said.
“When I step on the field I know that I can trust them, that they’ll have my back. And if I don’t do my best, they’ll pick me up. This is the first year where I’ve had the most fun because we’re winning and we’re having a good time doing it.”
“I really adore out six seniors and I’m already sad thinking about them leaving,” Casedy said.
“They know how to enjoy the game but also how to turn on the focus and the fight. We’ve asked them all season so far to not only learn how to fight here (in slowpitch) but to bring that to the spring (for fastpitch) as well.
“All six of them, just each one brings a different type of energy – and not only to the games but to practice. To have six of them that can do that in different ways has been a blessing for our team.”
Cushner said the team has also benefited from an influx of new players.
“We lost three seniors from last year, and they were a big part of our team,” she said. “We have a lot of younger players and it’s helped us out a lot. Teamwork is the biggest part. I don’t think we would have won as many games as we have without the teamwork we have.”
Mead had a good contingent of fans for its road game on Tuesday. It’s not uncommon for parents to travel with their softball-playing daughters, but Bocook’s cheering section was, to be polite, noticeable.
“It’s my parents. I love it,” she said. “I love that my family comes to support me. My main goal is to make them proud. Not only make my team and my coaches proud, but make them proud of me.
“I play this game for my teammates and I play for myself and my family. (Softball) has always been a big part of my life. They come to every game and if they didn’t I don’t think I’d be as happy and ready to play.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.