This season was about getting back on the right track for the Columbus softball team.
After back-to-back seasons where it failed to reach the Elite Eight tournament, new coach Chad Mathis set that as his personal goal in his first season.
"I wanted to at least get to the Elite Eight," he said. "That was my goal in my first year as the head coach, because, then, you've at least given yourself a shot."
The Lady Blue Devils (30-4-1) will begin play in the Class AAAA tournament at 4:15 p.m. on Thursday against West Laurens (27-10) at the South Commons complex with dreams of making it through the weekend and winning a state championship. And it's right where they belong.
It's not that the past two seasons were disappointments. Those teams were very good. But they followed a state championship in 2009.
But this season, Columbus has been great.
There are always plenty of factors that go into making a good team great, but there are a couple that have put Columbus over the top.
First, look no further than the head coach.
What Mathis has done is refocus a team that was already very talented. Combine talent with great preparation, and you get a team that has lost only four times all season.
Mathis said that when he started the season, he wanted to get back to the basics. Fundamentals, he stressed, were as important as anything.
That means catching and throwing the ball, among other things.
Sounds obvious, right?
But in softball, mistakes like failing to get a sacrifice bunt down to move the runner to second, are magnified. Every play counts.
And that's what Mathis has made his team realize.
"We've stressed defense and the little things this year, which I think is really important," senior Alexis Jones said. "Especially at this point of the season, because when you get to the Elite Eight, every team is good."
Another factor that has led to Columbus' return to the state tournament is its composure.
Every team faces adversity in some form or another. And while Columbus hasn't faced much in the way of losses, it has had difficulties like any other team.
In the first round of the state playoffs, its opponent, Lanier, was not as talented as Columbus.
Still, the Lady Blue Devils won both games just 1-0.
The less-than-stellar performances may have frustrated Mathis and his
players, but it was evidence of the team's ability to win on days it doesn't play particularly well.
Every state champion has days like that. It's not just beneficial; it's necessary.
"We've got a pretty good record. We haven't panicked," Mathis said. "Some games have gotten shaky, but these girls have found a way to win."
They need to do that just a few more times to match the 2009 team.
And, in order to make that a reality, they need one more factor:
A little luck.
"When you get this far, you've got to be a little lucky sometimes," Mathis said.
Every team is good. Every team is well-prepared. Every team has a star in the circle.
The question is whether Columbus can take advantage of its opportunities and make this postseason special. Pitcher Mary Catherine Smith believes it can.
"I think we can do it," she said. "I think we can win the championship."
If it does, no one will be surprised.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571. Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.