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Shelbyville seniors TeAnn Bringle, left, and Katie Lux, right, celebrate after receiving the sectional championship trophy Thursday at East Central.
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The Shelbyville softball team celebrates after winning the East Central Sectional on Thursday. The Golden Bears beat Bloomington South 6-1.

By KRIS MILLS - kmills@shelbynews.com

ST. LEON – With a monkey off its back, the Shelbyville softball team was finally able to relax and just play ball. Or maybe a majority of the team was simply too young to care. Regardless, despite losing four valuable seniors from last season’s first-ever sectional championship team, the Golden Bears have not taken a step back.

It appears, as Shelbyville nears the 23-win mark, the program is taking a step forward.

The Golden Bears continued their successful season Thursday, claiming their second consecutive sectional title in a 6-1 win over Bloomington South at the East Central Sectional. Doing so with just two seniors, SHS head coach Mark Hensley will have the luxury of returning another experienced squad next season.

Like last year, however, the team leaned on its small group of veterans early in a new campaign. Seniors TeAnn Bringle and Katie Lux did their part in making this one of the best seasons in school history.

SHS (22-7) is just one win shy of the program record.

“(Bringle and Lux) have just been great. Last year, after our group of seniors left, people thought we would struggle this year,” Hensley said. “That was great, let people think we are going to struggle. That is what we were really focused on this summer, just getting better. We knew were going to play some freshmen and some sophomores and make some mistakes. But every year, we want to win 20 games, win the conference and win the sectional. That is the goal”

On the way to the game on Thursday, Hensley told Bringle she could pitch as long as she stayed in control. If things got out of hand, sophomore Erica Henry would enter the game. After pitching complete games on Tuesday and Wednesday, Hensley was understandably expecting the senior to eventually wear down.

Her answer on the bus ride to East Central: “You’re not taking me out.”

Bringle (13-3) threw 22 innings in three days to help the Golden Bears repeat as sectional champs. She threw strikes early in each count and kept batters off balance with different speeds and locations in the title game, allowing four hits and two walks.

“Last night (Wednesday) I only threw 70 pitches,” Bringle said. “So that helped. It means a lot to us, especially for me and Katie being seniors. We really picked it up (defensively) and our bats picked up, too.”

Lux, who led the team in batting average this season, scored a run and had a hit against Bloomington South. Regardless of the score, she said the feeling of winning another title was just as good as the first.

“That was our goal last year, and it was one of our many goals this year,” Lux said. “We wanted to come back and win another sectional. That is what we were pushing for all season. It’s a great feeling.”

Freshman Katie Mathies and sophomore Morgan Stieneker led the offense Thursday, each finishing with two hits and two RBIs. SHS scored three runs in the third inning, highlighted by RBIs from Mathies and Stieneker, and two more in the fifth to run away with the win.

The Golden Bears beat Columbus East 9-8 (eight innings) and Bloomington North 1-0 earlier this week.

With the win, Shelbyville will head to the Center Grove Regional on Tuesday to battle the No. 2-ranked Trojans. Center Grove is 28-1 and beat New Palestine 3-2 earlier this year. Junior pitcher Abby Herbst is 19-0 with 157 strikeouts to lead the team.

“They are really, really good,” Hensley said.

Note: This season, SHS currently has 36 home runs and 227 RBIs. Last year’s team finished with 18 home runs and 163 RBIs.

Kris Mills is the Sports editor of The Shelbyville News. Follow Kris on Twitter @KrisMills37.

East Central Sectional Championship

Shelbyville 6, Bloomington South 1

Winning Pitcher: TeAnn Bringle (13-3).

Offensive Leaders: Morgan Stieneker and Katie Mathies with two hits and two RBIs each.