BELGRADE – After their first state softball championship in school history, the Belgrade Panthers got a wild homecoming early Sunday morning.

Following their exuberant celebration at the trophy presentation, the state champions climbed on the bus for the long ride home from Sidney. Four-hundred, twenty-one miles later, they received a midnight hero’s welcome back at the high school.

Head coach Mike Neubauer was the first man off the bus. Neubauer led the team to a 21-1 record and a dominating state tournament that saw the Panthers outscore their opposition 42-3 in four games.

Neubauer talked about what made the difference this year from the previous state championship runs that fell short.

Story continues below

“I think our motto of one pitch at a time and not looking ahead,” replied Neubauer. “And just a work ethic, mostly work ethic. And dedication to our hilosophy of one pitch at a time.”

The scary thing about this Belgrade team is that they lose just three seniors, but for those seniors, this win was something special.

“Yes, it’s really nice,” said pitcher Shania Neubauer. “We finally got over the hump and beat Frenchtown. It took a lot of teamwork, a lot of time together, team bonding, but we finally got it done.”

First baseman Kalista Pachl believes it was closeness: “Being a family and being a team and being one. It means having each other’s back and any error, or anything, just having each other’s back.”

Because they left Sidney in such a hurry, there was no time for one celebration, so coach Neubauer got his Gatorade shower back at his home field.

It’s all part of winning.