This probably should have been a rebuilding year.
It had all the markings of it for the Douglas High School softball team.
Their best player, Aaliyah Paxson, was sidelined with a hip injury for nearly the entire season. The two primary starting pitchers were new to the varsity level. The roster included nine freshmen or sophomores.
Defending regional champion Damonte Ranch returned nearly all of its roster, as did defending Sierra League champion Bishop Manogue.
Yes, this should have been a year where the younger roster took its lumps, learned from the experience and came back stronger next year.
Somewhere early on, though, it started to turn into something much more. After a sterling run through the regional playoffs, Douglas wrapped up a genuine breakout season.
Douglas went 23-12 overall (9-1 at home), took second place in the Sierra League and then pushed its way into the regional finals with a series of stellar efforts.
The Tigers opened the season with an admirable 3-2 showing at a tournament in Sacramento, and then swept a non-league doubleheader from Reno.
From there, the Tigers battled against perennial powerhouse Spanish Springs, losing 7-3 and flipped around to sweep a doubleheader from Manogue.
The season progressed with plenty more wins than losses for the Tigers before the April 20 showdown at Damonte Ranch.
The Mustangs ran away with a 4-0 win in the first game, but Douglas nicked away at Damonte Ranch standout pitcher Kalynn Paque for six runs in an 8-6 loss in the second game.
“It was a loss, but that was definitely a turning point in the year for us,” Douglas coach Andy Mitchell said. “We jumped out and scored four runs in the first two innings. The kids knew they could do well against the best. There was a lot of confidence they took away from that. We felt like we had a chance at winning some games down the stretch.”
Douglas suffered a 10-0 step backwards in its next outing against Spanish Springs, setting up a soul-searching practice the following day.
“They beat us pretty badly and we came back the next day and moved some kids around during practice,” Mitchell said. “We have a lot of strong players, and we pushed them pretty hard. It was a good practice. They came away really believing in the strength of the team and believing in each other.”
Douglas won its next nine games, clinching a berth in the regional finals before falling to Reed in twin 9-5 losses.
“It was just a great season,” Mitchell said. “The kids believed in each other and got better and better throughout the year. The seniors were a huge part of leading this team to where we got. The kids coming back have a great future ahead of them, and the JV program was one of the strongest in the area. The future looks good.”
Mitchell, who announced his resignation last week, said he’d like to see one of the current coaches in the program take a shot at coaching the varsity team.