Hilmar High varsity softball is the definition of a turnaround team.
The Yellowjackets lost three of their first four Trans Valley League contests and turned it around dramatically, winning seven of their last eight league contests to secure a postseason berth.
Hilmar defeated Modesto Christian, 12-0, to close out its regular season on Wednesday afternoon to secure a spot in the playoffs and the title of runners-up of the TVL along with Hughson.
“I told the girls, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” said Hilmar head coach Paul Willis. “We played some tough teams early on and tried to find our identity.”
The Yellowjackets also had a miracle ending to their regular season.
From April 5 to Thursday, the Hilmar softball team accumulated a record of 12-2. Hilmar won nine of their final 10 regular season games. They topped it with a 6-0 win against Los Banos in their final official game on Thursday.
The Yellowjackets close out the regular season with an overall record of 18-7 and 8-4 in the TVL.
“We started off league 1-3 and we told the girls to keep working hard and do things they do well,” said Willis. “It looked far down the road at 1-3, but what happened is some of the other girls started to step up, (Kaitlyn) Egli and (McKenzie) Martinez and we got good pitching from Madison Aguiniga.”
Willis said good effort from Cheyann Hughes, Madison Steelman and Morgan Amarante, among others, was also instrumental in the turnaround finish.
“A good combination of all the girls to do good things to make us successful,” said Willis. “They were just working hard and good things were happening from top to bottom.”
In their last five games of the season, the Yellowjackets outscored their opponents 44-2, including four shutouts.
“We told them to keep positive and kept telling them they could do it, the old cliché — play one game and do their best and then move on — and we got on a nice roll,” said Willis. “They never got down and could have easily lost many other games. Good things happened and credit where credit is due.”
Willis, who is also the athletic director at Hilmar, took over the head coaching duties not long before the season was about to start after the recent coach stepped down unexpectedly.
“Knowing the coach had resigned and I took over and I wanted them to know we were thinking of them and they were going to have a successful season,” said Willis. “We wanted them to leave with a positive feeling. We progressed and made playoffs, tied second in league and can’t stress it enough, it was about the girls playing softball and not giving up. It’s been a crazy ride.”
No. 5 Hilmar will next travel on the road to take on No. 4 Amador in the opening round of the Division-V Sac-Joaquin Section tournament at 4 p.m. Monday.