The fact that they came up short in their first trip to the state tournament?
That they return to Montgomery this week with Class 3A’s No. 1 ranked team?
It all just adds to their motivation as the Wildcats (47-8) open state tourney play against No. 6 Geneva (22-6) today at 9 a.m. at Lagoon Park.
“It’s huge,” senior shortstop Jordan Coleman said. “We talk about it every day at practice.
“Last year, we were the first one (team from White Plains) to get in the running for state, and this year it’s actually become a reality. Hey, we can win the whole thing, we feel like, if we play our best.”
It would seem the Wildcats are playing their best. They swept four games in the North Central Regional, averaging 10.5 runs.
Coleman, who has hit 37 home runs the past two years, hit four in Birmingham and added a 3-run double.
Freshman pitcher Anna Snider (36-6, 1.23 ERA) got the win in all four games and appears to be on top of her game.
Perhaps biggest of all, the Wildcats head into Montgomery with all but one starter from the team that first got there a year ago. Joy Cain was the lone senior.
“It was nerve-racking, but it was fun,” said Snider, who was White Plains’ starting pitcher in Montgomery as an eighth-grader. “I believe that, since we’ve already been there once, it will help calm our nerves a little bit more this year.
“We have everybody returning except one person. We have a couple of younger ones that came up this year, but everybody has played on the big stage. It ought to allow us to mature a lot and just play ball this weekend.”
Add it all up, and White Plains coach Rachel Ford has lots of reason for better than guarded optimism.
“I felt last year’s team was very strong but a little inexperienced in that kind of atmosphere,” she said. “Just the fact that we made it there last year and got a taste of it, I really hope that’s something we can finish this year, maybe being a little bit more calm in pressure situations.
“Again, you never know what’s going to happen. There are really good teams in the state tournament. I’m expecting it to be a war, but I’m very confident in my girls, and I think they’re feeling a little more confidence this year.”
The X factor for White Plains this year will likely be how the rest of the team responds offensively when opponents try to take the bat out of Coleman’s hands.
County rival Saks worked around Coleman, who has signed with the University of Mobile, while eliminating the Wildcats from the state tournament a year ago.
Saks also intentionally walked her in Saturday’s North Central Regional final.
Coleman and White Plains have seen a lot of that this year, and it’s part of the reason why she has 14 home runs, down from 23 a year ago.
Ford said Coleman has reached points of frustration, and Coleman said she got frustrated in the regional final.
“Right after my last at-bat — it was right after Mikayla Owen hit that home run, and I had got on base again — I looked at coach Ford and said, ‘I really don’t understand why they keep walking me, when you have everybody else coming through the lineup, hitting it over the fence all the time,’” she said.
That people like Owen are getting those big hits around Coleman is making a difference this year.
“I have the security, the rest of the people on the team, they can make up for it,” Coleman said. “I’m confident of them getting me around there, to home.”
Snider, who typically bats next in the order and homered in the regional, said she and her teammates know how to handle teams pitching around Coleman.
“Jordan is an awesome hitter, and teams have taken the bat out of her hands several times,” said Snider, a .383 hitter with four home runs and 42 RBIs. As awesome as Jordan is, we know we can’t always just rely on her. It’s a team sport, and we always have to pick her up, whenever that happens.
“It’s our job to have Jordan’s back and to produce in that situation.”
Batting behind Coleman and Snider are Ponder (.304, 5 homers, 24 RBIs) and then Owen (.343, 3 homers, 32 RBIs). Even leadoff hitter Sophia Taylor has shown power with two home runs, and she has scored 58 runs.
That there’s plenty of offense around Coleman is just another reason why hopes for White Plains’ first state title are at an all-time high.
“I know that’s been the buzz around school lately,” Ford said. “I hear students and faculty talking just a lot of talk about it’s never happened at White Plains and how big it would be for the softball team to be able to do that this year.”
Coleman calls it “kind of surreal.”
“It’s not going to hit us all until it really happens,” she said. “It’s one of those crazy dreams.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.