This Altamont softball team is already one for the history books.
Altamont beat Camp Point Central, 16-0 at Monday’s Class 1A Springfield Super-Sectional, to advance to the school’s first-ever state semifinal in any sport.
The school is used to success, including the boys basketball team’s 26-4 record this season, but the softball team takes it further and closer than ever to a first-place state trophy.
“The community has always followed our teams and this is going to be one they’ll never forget,” Altamont athletic director Todd Arnold said. “This is probably the best team effort I’ve ever seen.”
Anchored by senior pitcher Deidre Ledbetter, who is 24-3 with a 1.11 ERA this season, and a stout offense that is outscoring opponents 57-3 this postseason, the Indians have backed up their preseason expectations after ending last season with a loss to Cumberland, which finished second in the state.
Arnold said he knew the team would play at a high level this season, but didn’t know how far they would go. The Indians’ current confidence has him thinking about the best possible outcome.
“Our girls have confidence and I can see it in their eyes,” Arnold said. “I think the girls are ready to bring home a state title, honestly.”
The team’s head coach, John Niebrugge, said it’s an accomplishment for the players to be a part of the first team to ever get so far in a postseason. He attributed the team’s camaraderie to its success, posting a 28-6 record this season, saying, “They just don’t want to lose.”
Niebrugge, also the boys basketball coach, experienced the feeling of an early exit as the basketball team lost to St. Anthony in February’s Nokomis Regional championship game.
The softball team’s success, though in a different sport, does a little bit to help heal his wounds.
“The two teams are very similar — the boys were very competitive and practices were amazing,” Niebrugge said. “These two teams have had some lofty goals and to be able to get at least one of them this far has been a fulfillment.”
Arnold said Niebrugge has done a great job bringing life to the basketball and softball programs, especially from his roots in Teutopolis athletics, which historically yield championships in sports like basketball, baseball and softball.
“Obviously T-Town has experienced it a lot, but Altamont hasn’t,” Arnold said. “The girls believe in themselves and he’s given them confidence.”
The softball team’s run has been an exciting time for everyone involved, Arnold said, especially community members who’ve support the school’s athletics for a long time.
Arnold said the Indians appreciate seeing fans of all ages in the stands to support them every game.
“We have people, who are older, who’ve been out for many years and still follow the team and the girls can see those older people in the stands and it means a lot to them,” Arnold said. “Altamont is a great community and they’ve always supported the program win or lose.”
Seeking a state title, Arnold said the community will remember the imprint left by this historic team. Even so, he’s excited to see what happens this weekend.
“It’s unbelievable,” Arnold said. “It’s a once in a lifetime experience. Here we go.”
Alex McNamee can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or firstname.lastname@example.org.