HARRISBURG, S.D. (BVM) — Since the start of the season, the Harrisburg Tigers have been ranked No. 1 in Class AA softball.
Harrisburg was undefeated up until Monday when it was swept by Sioux Falls Roosevelt. The 19-2 Tigers will still enter the conference tournament on Saturday as one of the favorites to win.
“The greatest thing about this program is the culture and the climate that we’re really focusing on,” Harrisburg head coach Toby Bryant said.
When Bryant was named the head coach back in January, he immediately got to work preparing for the fall season.
“We came into a program that’s kind of up and coming,” Bryant said. “We knew we had the players and the skill, we just had to come together and play clean softball. We’ve done that to this point.”
The success Harrisburg has had is a long time coming. Just four years ago, the Tigers were in Class B and struggling to field a team. They have since moved up to Class AA and this year had 76 girls try out for softball this season.
The Tigers have stepped up and have forced their way into contention for a state championship in a competitive Class AA division.
“We’re kind of the new kid on the block,” Bryant said.
They have a target on their back as the new kids and there are also questions of whether they are true contenders. For Bryant, the moment he realized they were ready to truly contend for a state championship was early this season against the reigning state champions.
Harrisburg was down, 5-1, in the fourth inning to Sioux Falls Lincoln. Then the Tigers rallied, scoring eight unanswered runs to beat the Patriots, 9-5.
“Our dugout really took over with the energy,” Bryant said. “That’s where the culture of the dugout really helped us make a transition.”
The culture that helped fuel the Tigers’ rally is something that Bryant has been working on since Day One of being head coach. After being hired, he reached out to his five seniors and began to talk to them about a mentality of “playing for the senior class” and starting a tradition for Harrisburg softball. This involves the seniors interacting with the middle school players and the underclassmen and pushing those younger players to keep pushing the competitive level of the program.
Through this coaching up of leadership and culture, the Tigers have been able to succeed greatly and are now ready to take that next step as a program.
“It’s kind of funny people think sports sometimes just show up with a bucket of balls and a bat and start hitting balls at kids,” Bryant said. “That’s maybe 30% of the time you put in the other 70% of the time is leadership, mending and molding. Allowing them to fail and pick them up when they’re down and break them down when they need it. … It’s a great process, it’s what I am, it’s who I am and it’s what our program is going to be about. I’m just blessed to be a part of it.”
They are still in the beginning stages of that process, but it has already paid dividends. The Tigers are having a season that will build the foundation for the growth of the program. With the conference tournament and state championship coming, they will work to add banners to that foundation.
“We keep stressing the culture,” Bryant said. “We keep stressing the tradition. We don’t have a tradition here, we’re starting a tradition and talk is cheap until you have the tradition set. We have some schools around us that have had more time and have traditionally got banners on the wall. … We don’t have that. This is the first set of players that are putting a flag in the ground and saying, ‘This is Tiger softball.’”