BELGRADE – It was only right that Mike Neubauer was the first person off the bus, carrying the trophy after his Belgrade Panthers had won their first state softball championship in school history. The first-year coach was absolutely beaming.

“It was pretty exciting, pretty challenging at the same time,” said Neubauer. “A lot of the girls I hadn’t coached before in youth ball. I had coached the juniors and the seniors.”

As the Panthers rushed the field in Sidney after winning the State A title, Neubauer still wasn’t too sure: “I was just hoping it wasn’t a dream.”

State championships are nothing new for Neubauer. Signed as a catcher with the Milwaukee Brewers out of Wolf Point back in 1982, he came back to his hometown after his playing career was over and led an American Legion team to a state title 30 years ago. He also helped establish the Belgrade Bandits in 1994, but this team was special.

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“Number one, it’s the girls,” said Neubauer. “It’s all about the girls. We have a few slogans we go by. One is, ‘We not me.’ We focus on being good teammates, and we don’t think about stats much at all: just being the best teammate we possibly can. Winning will take care of itself if you focus on one pitch at a time.”

Of course, having his daughter Shania handling that one pitch at a time was a huge help in going 21-1 this season and outscoring its opponents at state 42-3. Now that Shania has graduated, Mike still has work to do.

“Oh yeah. Yeah, I’ll be here as long as they’ll have me,” he said.

Neubauer received a Gatorade shower when he returned home, and now he receives a beautiful plaque from Bozeman Trophy as the KBZK outstanding athlete of the weeK.

“It’s harder to stay on top than it is to get on top,” said Neubauer. “But we’re not going to worry about that. We’ll start the year out one pitch at a time, and just basically do the same thing: just work on improving.”