METROPOLIS, IL-- The Massac County softball program isn't necessarily known for having a winning tradition.
"The year before I came here, my sister played, we won three games," said senior catcher Madison Stephens. "So coming in I was like, oh man, I'm not used to losing, so it was hard."
But this year, that's all changed.
"People are noticing us now, that was our goal coming into this year, for softball to get noticed," Stephens admits. "We knew we had what it took, it was our job to prove to everyone else we had it this year."
The Patriots are currently ranked eleventh in the state at 28-5-1, and recently clinched their first ever River to River conference title.
"It makes me feel really good, I think this group of girls really deserves it," junior pitcher Kaylee Childers said. "We play hard every game, and it means a lot to be the first conference championship team."
"I catch myself pinching myself a little bit the last couple of days," coach Pat Clark says. "I'm still not sure it's quite sunk in."
Players say the turnaround started a few years ago, when Clark introduced motivational quotes into the program.
"He takes his time to write them down, and a different person reads them before every practice and game, and helps us keep focused," Childers admits. "It's quotes about life, it's quotes about everything, he really wants to motivate us as players."
It also helps that freshman Gracyn McBride is first in the state with 66 RBI, fifth in the state in runs, and has set a school record for doubles.
Then there's junior pitcher Kaylee Childers. Childers is seventh in the state with 156 strikeouts, and third in wins with 21. All just months after her mother tragically passed away after battling cancer.
"She's dealt with a lot of adversity," said Clark. "I couldn't imagine being in those shoes at 17 years old, and having to walk the walk she's had to. But she's handled it very well, she keeps her head held high, and she's always been able to lead by example. And that's one of the things I admire the most about her."
With so much spirit, skill, and determination on one team, the girls say they're not hanging their hats on one accomplishment.
"We're not stopping with conference. It's gonna be regionals, sectionals, there's no limits on what we're going to do this year. In my eyes, we're going for the gold."