Shakopee’s softball program might be one not in favor of the disbanding of the Missota Conference. It only has one more year to dominate the eight-team league.
The Sabres won the Missota Conference title for the fifth consecutive season this spring, finishing with a 13-1 league mark. The conference voted to dissolve after the 2013-14 season.
“We’ve been fortunate,” said Sabres coach Neil Johnson, who has been the program’s only mentor in its 38-year history. “Teams go in cycles.”
The Sabres wound up 18-2 overall in the regular season. They are the No. 1 seed in the Class 3A, Section 2 tournament.
“It puts a little target on your back, but sometimes that’s a good thing,” Sabres senior shortstop Liz Bade said. “It put us in the double-elimination bracket, and that’s a good place to be.”
A year ago, the fourth-seeded Sabres lost to Minnetonka 6-4 in the quarterfinals and didn’t advance to the double-elimination portion of the tournament.
“It was disappointing losing in the first round last year,” Bade said. She entered section play with .500 batting average and a team-high 26 RBI. “Sections is a whole new season. We have high expectations this year.”
Johnson has guided the Sabres to three state tournament appearances, the most recent coming in 2011. Bade and juniors Abbie Annen and Alexandria Walker were members of that squad.
“Going to the state tournament was one of my best experiences,” Walker said. The junior pitcher went 12-2 during the regular season with one save and a 1.13 ERA. “It was really nice getting a bye this year in the section tournament. It gives us a little more confidence.”
Both games the Sabres lost during the regular season they were shut out. One of them was to top-ranked Lakeville North 2-0. The Panthers are in the South Suburban Conference, the league Shakopee will join for the start of the 2014-15 school year.
“Consistency is going to be very important the rest of the season,” Bade said. “We want to be consistently scoring runs and making plays.”
The Sabres did just that for most of the regular season. They averaged 8.3 runs per game while allowing 2.1.
“We played as a team really well all season,” Walker said. “We don’t play as individuals.”
That was indicative in the Sabres’ opening section tournament game, a 4-1 victory over Chaska. Eight different players had hits, with Walker leading the way with two.
“The girls are very relaxed when they play,” Johnson said. He recorded his 500th career win this season in a 22-1 victory over Holy Angels in the second game of a Missota Conference doubleheader. “They believe they are going to get the job done.”
Which plays into their team motto on T-shirts worn by the players — “One Team, One Goal.”
“I remember what it felt like the first time I went to the state tournament,” Bade said. “It was indescribable. To get there as a senior and captain would top it all off. That would be amazing.”