The light bulb came on for the Northwest softball team in the final game of the regular season, a play-in game, that would give them a playoff berth they didn’t realize they could achieve.The change was almost instantaneous and stuck as Northwest advanced two rounds into the playoffs. “This season we didn’t realize we had a chance to make it to the playoffs and we got into that game against [Keller] Timber Creek, and in that game our mindset changed and it was different form any game we had played so far,” sophomore Sydnee Hinkle said. “We had that fighting spirit and we played to win, not just to be there.”The two-round playoff run was a stark contrast from the previous season, winning just two district games. There was a change in mindset that led not only the team but Hinkle to a stellar season.“We went in thinking of like a clear slate and everything was new from last year,” she said. “We didn’t really realize how far we were going to go from where we started out. I didn’t realize until the end of the season how good our team did as a whole.”As just a sophomore Hinkle led the team in RBIs with 29 and home runs with 6. She also knocked the cover off the ball, batting at a .450 clip for the season.Hinkle knew she could produce that kind of season as it began, but had a reoccurring fear always in the back of her mind. The slump.She had faced a mid-season slump for the past several seasons of her career that held her back from great numbers like those she put up last season. However, as the home runs kept coming as district play began, she settled into her slump-free sophomore year.“When I got in the season and I hit four more, I was really surprised because usually I don’t ever do well in district,” Hinkle said. “This was my first high school season that I didn’t go into a slump midseason. I stayed strong all the way through.”Nothing epitomized the season Hinkle produced than her performance in Northwest’s second game against district rival Keller, at the Lady Indians’ home field. Down four runs, Hinkle stepped up with the bases loaded and drove a grand slam over the fence to tie the game up. Keller would actually pick up a walk-off grand slam of its own in the first extra frame, giving Northwest the loss, but it’s a performance that highlighted Hinkle’s year to the young slugger. Hinkle will spend her summer engrossed in softball, playing for her select team and working not only on the athletic aspect of her game, but her prowess as a leader.“Instead of doing the little cheers, stepping up and getting the whole team to follow and cheer on our teammates,” Hinkle said.With three rising seniors returning to the team next season, Hinkle foresees her role as a leader beginning to take shape as early as next season. What she hopes to imbed in the minds of her teammates is to play with that same fire that launched Northwest into the playoffs last season and holding the same focus through district play.“From now on, I’m starting off with that fire to win at the beginning of the season and not kicking it in when we have to have it. If we have that all through the season, we’ll go all the way to state,” she said.