‘Culture’ has Jets back in semistate

Hauser’s Paige McDaniel fires a pitch to the plate during the regional championship game against Eastern (Pekin) Tuesday at Hauser High School in Hope.

If one word can describe the success of the Hauser softball program over the last decade, it would be “culture.”

The Jets have had a strong feeder program and system intact to reload the team year-in-and-year-out, especially when losing its most valuable players. Hauser’s culture culminated into another regional championship on Tuesday, when the Jets defeated Eastern (Pekin) 3-1 for its third straight title.

Hauser will begin semistate play against Triton Central in the Class 2A Forest Park Semistate at 11 a.m. Saturday. No. 1 North Posey and No. 6 Cascade will follow in the other semifinal, and the semistate championship is set for 7 p.m.

The Jets are no stranger to playing in the semistate. Brunner’s coaching predecessor, Craig Sims, took the program to the semistate three times in four years in 2015, 2016 and 2018 until stepping down following the 2018 season. This is Brunner’s third year in a row qualifying for the semistate. He took over the program in 2019, and the 2020 season wasn’t played due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“(The culture) is something that we work very hard to maintain. It’s something we work very hard to make sure that the younger classes coming in understand that we don’t get here because we’ve got a few good ballplayers. There is a large group of this team that gets it,” Hauser coach Andy Brunner said. “What’s been awesome this year is seeing some of the young ones come in, and they’re understanding. They’re realizing what the demand is going forward. You can see it clicking with them… It’s the culture. That’s the simplest way I know how to say it.”

Hauser currently is 24-7 on the season. While rolling through the Mid-Hoosier Conference at 12-0 again, the Jets have tried to beef up their non-conference schedule every year in hopes of preparing them for the competition they will face in the postseason. This year was no different.

“With changing the schedule like we did this year and picking up a lot tougher non-conference teams, my goal for this year was to make it to 20 wins, and we’re at 24,” Brunner said. “Am I saying I’m done? No. Am I going to quit pushing? No. But they continue to succeed because they understand. Their minds are set towards it, and they get the demand, they get the culture, they get the pressure, they get all that.”

Triton Central (20-5) is no stranger to Hauser. The teams have had regular season matchups in the past, but didn’t play this year. The Jets have gotten the best of the Tigers in the past during the regular season, but Triton Central upset No. 10 Union County in the regional. Hauser will be up to a much harder task against the Tigers on Saturday with much bigger stakes on the line.

Should the Jets advance, they would either play No. 6 Cascade (24-4) or No. 1 North Posey (26-0). Hauser fell to Cascade 1-0 on May 13. North Posey is the the favorite to advance and is led by senior and Michigan commit Erin Hoehn, who is a candidate for Miss Softball and a travel team teammate of Jets shortstop Hannah Taylor.

But with how the wild the softball postseason has been this year, with plenty of upsets along the way, anything can happen on the diamond heading into Saturday.

“It’s very simple, and we talked about it before the postseason. We emphasized it since the postseason. You have a bad night, you don’t come back until December for offseason workouts, October for fall workouts, so you better leave it all on the field,” Brunner said. “I believe in my team. What I have learned with these guys is getting them to believe in themselves, and when they do, there isn’t anybody in the state that can beat them except for themselves. That’s going to be our mindset. It’s a pretty cool and pretty rare opportunity going to semistate three years in a row, especially being a little school like this.”