A year ago, Burleson Centennial’s softball team walked off the field after being swept in a best-of-three Class 4A regional quarterfinal by Aledo.
The Game 2 loss was just an afterthought really, considering Centennial came from eight runs down in Game 1 only to lose 12-11.
The burn of that playoff loss has festered for a year, and the Spartans have repositioned themselves for another run at the ultimate goal.
“These kids want to get to state, it’s as simple as that,” Centennial coach Shannon Sullivan said. “It’s not that they weren’t focused last year, but I sense that the experience and the couple of losses we’ve had this year stung and left them hungry.
“Watching them play this year, in eight seasons of coaching, I’ve never had a group motivated like this. Coaches at this level and even collegiately have difficulty motivating sometimes because of all the games these kids play. I haven’t had that once.”
Sullivan, who became Centennial’s first-ever softball coach after spending four seasons at Cedar Hill, said her team has Denton Guyer directly in its crosshairs now.
The Spartans (24-3) meet Guyer in a best-of-three area round series beginning Thursday.
They do so with the area’s leading hitter.
Junior second baseman Madison Montgomery, who said she’s committed to play at Oklahoma State, hit .585 in the regular season and was 4 for 7 with four runs scored and two RBIs against Fort Worth South Hills in the bi-district series.
She also had a double and triple.
“We’re an offensive-minded team,” Montgomery said. “I think the turning point for us has been the realization that every one of our hitters can put the ball in play. We talk a lot throughout the game, and we’ve found a process that works for us.”
Montgomery said the process includes in-game scouting and communicating about the opposing pitcher’s location and velocity.
That process led to a team batting average of .379 during the season while the Spartans scored 237 runs and hammered out 118 extra-base hits.
“To me, it’s been their approach at the plate that’s made the difference,” Sullivan said. “They’re more patient and they’re not making the mental errors even on defense that they did last season.”
Senior Ashlee Gibson has led the way in the circle, running her record to 15-2 with 108 innings pitched. She’s struck out 96 while allowing opponents to hit .277.
Freshman Haley Kimberling has made 11 appearances to complement Gibson and is 6-1 this season.
At the plate, Montgomery leads two other players who hit above .490. Sophomore Eva Scott is hitting .524 with 28 RBIs, and Brooklyn Vernier is hitting .494 with 46 runs scored.
The big numbers are one thing, but Montgomery said it’s been more about appreciating the game.
“It’s never 100 percent about the results because the results are about the work you do to get there,” she said. “If you put in the work and do what you’re supposed to do to get better, the results follow.”