Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL


June 5, 2014

#Windians: Armed with catchphrase, Altamont ready for first state trip

ALTAMONT — Nikki Tharp and Deidre Ledbetter make Ws with their fingers in different ways, but any sign the Altamont teammates show means the same thing.

“Windians,” said Tharp, who makes the sign with three fingers on one hand. “It’s kind of a surreal thing for us to have. It’s kind of a big motivator for us. We’re kind of the Windians.”

The combination of the word “win,” which the team is doing a lot of lately, and “Indians,” the school’s nickname, spurred a Twitter hashtag for the squad’s postseason run.

The word will be painted, scribbled and drawn on cars, posters and T-shirts belonging to the slew of Altamont fans and even players traveling to this weekend’s Class 1A state finals in Peoria.

Tharp said its the slogan for this state-bound softball team, which is experiencing all kinds of new things this week — not limited to practicing in June after graduating high school.

“If we bring home a state title, it’ll kind of sink in that we’re done,” Tharp said. “We’ve definitely gone out with a bang, no matter what place we come back with.”

The Indians’ eight seniors graduated Saturday night, hours after securing a 15-0 sectional championship victory against Oblong. They followed it up with a 16-0 win in Monday’s super-sectional against Camp Point Central to advance to this weekend’s final four.

Altamont reached its season-long goal by advancing past super-sectionals, where the Indians were knocked out by Goreville to end last season. The subsequent, celebratory bus ride was filled with a lot of noise, including “old jams” and Ledbetter screaming louder than most.

“We were up in our seats, dancing, and I’m pretty sure that’s not legal,” said Ledbetter, who’s also excited about this morning’s bus ride to Peoria.

“I’m definitely excited for the game, but I’m looking forward to the bus ride, to staying in a hotel with everybody. I’ve got four of my best friends in the hotel with me and the other three in the room next to me.”

Adds Tharp: “I think we’re going to have a heck of a bus ride over there.”

Catcher Lauren White said the team’s bus rides have been loud and rowdy since junior high softball. She said Ledbetter, the Indians’ star pitcher, always brings the speakers and music.

Tharp said it’s special that the core group of seniors, who are leading the school to its first state finals appearance in any sport, can do it together after wanting to reach the big stage for so long.

Second baseman Josie Phillips said it only sunk in that “we could win this” when the Indians’ offense started its rout in the super-sectional game.

“I can’t even explain how happy I was when we won that,” Phillips said. “It’s an amazing feeling knowing that whatever we do now, we’re going to place at state.”

But the Indians don’t intend to settle for any place besides the one they want, which Phillips calls “the big trophy.” Practices continue to intensify with that goal in mind and Phillips said the results are already showing on the field with their impressive run differential.

Altamont is beating teams by a combined score of 57-3 this postseason, which wasn’t how White expected to advance through May, beating all but Cumberland by at least seven runs.

“Our lineup is on fire,” White said. “It’s crazy.”

Ledbetter and White, forming Altamont’s staple pitcher-catcher tandem, said they get a confidence boost from the run support, much of which they help create — each boasting batting averages better than .400 this season. Ledbetter is hitting .485.

White said they expect to face better hitters in this weekend’s games. The duo calls their own pitches and are trying their best to scout the premiere hitters, starting with Sciota West Prairie’s lineup which they’ll face at 10 a.m. Friday at the Eastside Centre.

“We don’t have much, but we have a little,” Ledbetter said. “We want to look at their tendencies.”

Ledbetter said she didn’t expect “in a million years” the kind of offensive firepower the Indians have shown off during the postseason, especially after playing in tight games throughout the regular season.

Altamont topped Stew-Stras/Windsor three times this season, beating the Comets 4-1 and 3-1 in the first two matchups, respectively. The Indians dominated a rematch in the regional championship game, 10-3.

“We hit so much,” Phillips said. “Every single batter in our lineup has hit really well. It’s not just the top five or bottom half. It’s everyone and that’s amazing.”

For a sectional final, Ledbetter thought scoring 15 runs was “incredible” and said she certainly didn’t expect a similar result in the super-sectional game. They got it with a 16-0 win, which convinced Ledbetter that her team was getting even better than she thought.

“We’re definitely at a peak right now, but hopefully the mountain keeps getting taller,” Ledbetter said.

Alex McNamee can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or alex.mcnamee@effinghamdailynews.com.

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