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Shepherd softball team trying to 'go get this' after coming up short at state a year ago

Shepherd softball
Posted at 1:49 PM, May 07, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-08 11:12:40-04

BILLINGS — The bus ride home was a gloomy affair, at least to start.

It wasn’t just that the Shepherd Fillies had gone two-and-out at last year’s Class B-C state softball tournament in Anaconda, scuttling a very good 21-win season. Having entered the tourney as the East’s No. 1 seed, the Fillies had under performed, they thought.

Not only that, but they let rainy conditions get into their heads and allowed an uncontrollable factor to derail what had seemed to be a promising season.

Shepherd softball
Sisters Karli, left, and Paige Goodell are among the statistical leaders for Shepherd. Karli, a sophomore, is batting .491, while senior Paige is 10-1 with a 1.31 ERA in the circle and .412 at the plate.

Somewhere on the road home, though, the mood lightened, and the focus shifted.

“I think we really just tried to enjoy our last moments together, and we were grateful for what we’d done,” said shortstop Wilhelmina Wenz, a senior on this year’s Fillies team that has used last year’s ending as a springboard for another attempt at an historic season for Shepherd.

“We tried to look at the positives. Like, we left divisionals in first (place) and even if we lost at state, we still accomplished things that year.”

Lori Goodell started coaching the Shepherd program seven years ago. Like all coaches and teams, this year’s Fillies have their own slogan, two of the main pillars being focus and finish. Easy to understand, considering last season.

Led by a strong pitching staff and an explosive offense, the Fillies have taken their slogan, which in full goes "Eyes Up: Family, Focus, Finish," to heart.

They won their first 18 games of the season before losing to Class A Billings Central. But they rebounded nicely with a 14-0 win over rival Huntley Project last Friday.

The numbers show just how dominant this season has been:

  • Shepherd pitchers have logged 11 shutouts in their 21 victories.
  • Only three opponents have scored five or more runs in a game.
  • The Fillies themselves have reached double digits 16 times, including a span of six straight before the loss to the Rams. During that streak, Shepherd outscored its opponents 83-7; five of those runs were scored in one game by Glasgow.

It all started, though, when last season ended.
“It’s not a good feeling when you lose out (at state) when you’re going in as the 1 seed,” said senior pitcher Paige Goodell, who has signed to play for Black Hills State in Spearfish, South Dakota.

“But I think we really just took that for motivation this year. It’s just all of us, we’re like, ‘Let’s go get this this year.’ Because we don’t want to feel that feeling again.”

Paige Goodell has left plenty of hitters feeling empty. She leads the Shepherd staff, which also features sophomore Krista Dunn (6-0, 1.63 ERA) and eighth-grader Charlotte White (4-0, 2.23), with a 10-1 record and a 1.31 ERA. In 59 innings pitched, she has 115 strikeouts.

Although she missed her freshman season due to injury, Paige is Shepherd’s career leader in ERA (1.87), strikeouts (485) and wins (43).

The Fillies have eight players hitting .400 or better, led by eighth-grader Brooke Werth (.511). Karli Goodell is batting .491, followed by Dunn and Bree Fulton at .446, Audrey Sinclair (.444), Wenz (.439), Paige Goodell (.412) and White (.404).

Lori Goodell said she wants to build the program to the point where Shepherd is known for its softball. Maybe the Fillies are getting there. The Fillies have missed out on state just once in Goodell’s seven years, and the Fillies finished third in 2022.

Shepherd has never won a state championship and has played for the title just once, suffering a 10-0 loss to Frenchtown in 1997. A program-first state championship in three weeks would go a long way then in earning the label Goodell desires.

But there’s also potential pitfalls to getting there, lessons well-learned.

“We really have to focus on literally each pitch, each practice,” Lori Goodell said. “Because when we miss steps in between and our eyes go too far ahead, I think you lose the focus and the presence of how we’re going to get there.

“That’s been part of our success is we’re focused on ourselves. We’re focused on improving ourselves every day. Whatever happens in the future, whatever is thrown at us, as long as we have our family and we focus, we’re going to finish together, however that finish looks like.”

The togetherness formed by the end of last year’s return home from Anaconda is what Wenz remembers most. And it’s what she’ll carry with her beyond this season, as well.

“I was actually thinking about this the other day, but I was thinking back on all our of years and all our wins and losses, and I don’t really remember … like, I couldn’t tell you the score to some of our games this year,” said Wenz, who will play either basketball or softball at Martin Luther College, an NCAA Division III school in New Ulm, Minnesota, next school year.

“I will definitely remember my team and the girls I get to play with. That’s probably what I will remember the most is the girls and the memories we made on the bus or in the hotel or riding to practice, or whatever it was.”

Shepherd (20-1) has another week and a half before the divisional tournament. After that, if the Fillies qualify, is the state tournament, which is at Stewart Park in Billings this year.

That's a much shorter ride home. The Fillies hope it will be more joyful, as well.