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Sting of missed opportunities lingers

Successful Gothenburg softball season still falls short of Swede team’s hopes

Tom Osborne wrote in one of his books that you practice to win them all.

“We tried to do that and we didn’t win them all,” Swede softball coach Roger Neujahr said about the 2012 campaign.

“As you approach any season, and particularly with the kids that we have, you shoot for the state championship. When you don’t win the state championship, it’s a downer.”

The sting remains of not winning a game at the state tournament, the coach said.

“That’s probably what hurts and sticks in the mind of the players and the coaching staff,” he said.

Gothenburg held a 1-0 lead after five innings in the state tourney opener against eventual champion Arlington, but couldn’t hold on for the win.

The Swedes let several scoring opportunities slip through their hands in an elimination game against Milford. The Eagles came up with some defensive stops to send the Swedes home on the first day of competition.

Still, there are plenty of positives to remember about the season, which ended with 25 wins and eight losses.

The wins matched a team record set last year. Twenty-one team and individual records were established indicating the team’s prowess in pitching, hitting and running the bases.

Amanda Barkmeier closes out a stellar four-year pitching career by taking over the top spot in eight different career and season categories. The Swede ace has career and season records in wins, strikeouts, shutouts and innings pitched.

“We protected her this year by not letting her bat, which had to be tough for her,” Neujahr said. A lack of an experienced backup pitcher led to the decision.

“Everybody wants to hit. And if you are a hitter anyway, you really want to hit.” The senior ranks No. 7 in career batting average.

Barkmeier was one of six seniors, each of whom played key roles in the Swedes’ success.

Catcher Brittyn Munster posted good offensive numbers but her abilities as a catcher provided the most value to the team.

In fact, Neujahr said if he was drafting players for a fantasy league, Munster would be his first pick after Barkmeier.

“In my opinion, taking a pitcher away, she was the most valuable person we had,” he said. “You don’t read about it. You don’t see it. You don’t hear people talk about it. She provided any and everything we wanted.”

Hanna Wolf, the Swede shortstop, has shown exceptional improvement through her career, the coach said. Hard work has led to her getting to where she is going to charge a ball like former Swede standout Brooke Ballmer, field it on a short hop and throw people out easily, he said.

Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the contributions of a slap hitter, like Siera Schwanz, who reached base safely in 50% of her official at-bats.

“You know how hard it is not to strike out anyway and then all of a sudden you’re running at the ball,” Neujahr said. “She struck out three times (in the entire season).”

Schwanz easily led the team in walks and tied for runner-up honors in stolen bases.

Taylor Wolf was a spark plug for the team, especially after getting injured in the seventh game of the season.

“She could have been feeling sorry for herself,” Neujahr said. “Instead she provided exceptional team spirit.”

Whenever Shay Wear got to first base—and it was more often than not with a .518 on-base percentage—it was a sure bet that she would reach second shortly.

Wear was the team leader in stolen bases. She finished the season with a team record 36 thefts, breaking her own record set last year, and shared with Hanna Wolf, by 10.

Exceptional performances continued with the underclassmen. In fact, junior Kyndal Holmes led the team at the plate with a school record .500 batting average.

Another junior, Emily Franzen, paced the team in hits (43), RBIs (38) and home runs (3).

Gothenburg finished No. 5 in the Class C rankings by the Omaha World-Herald.

The Swedes have lost just four games to Class C schools in the last two years and all four came at the state tournament.

The team’s 263 runs scored are just three under the record set by Cozad in 2002 after playing 44 games. Gothenburg’s scoring average of 8.15 runs per game appears to be a new Class C state mark, eclipsing the old by nearly half a run per game.

Neujahr pointed to two games—a win and a loss—as offering particular satisfaction for the season.

The first came in the opening week of play at McCook.

“We knew that McCook was going to be a fair team,” he said. The Bison reached the state tournament.

“They are a Class B school and they’re always competitive,” he said. “They are really hard to beat at McCook.”

For us to score seven runs and beat them was kind of a lift for us, he said.

Gothenburg gained an emotional edge in an 8-5 loss to North Platte late in the season.

“We got down early, 7-1,” Neujahr said. “The team just picked up some spirit, some enthusiasm, some excitement and we bounced back on them. We got back to within three.

“Even though it was a loss, I thought it was a confidence booster for us going into the last couple of weeks of the season.”

Looking ahead to next year, the team will take on a different look.

“It’s going to be a challenge to replace them all (seniors),” the coach said. “I think we’ve got a group of kids that is ready to accept that challenge. You can’t have six kids like this forever.

“Our underclassmen really did grow up. Having a couple of injuries made several grow up and become pretty good ball players.”

In the meantime, there is plenty of time to reflect on this year.

“It was just a great season—25 wins,” Neujahr said. “The sting of not winning at state is still there. I hope the kids don’t think about that.”

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