SKOWHEGAN — The Skowhegan Area High School softball team battled through ups and downs, finished just above .500 and locked itself into a playoff spot with nothing more than a guarantee that it would get the chance to play at least one more game.

The Indians capitalized on that chance, running roughshod through the Class A North tournament to capture the regional title and make an improbable appearance in the state championship game.

But that was last year.

This is now, where Skowhegan entered the tournament this spring as the No. 1 seed and will play No. 3 Oxford Hills on Wednesday in the regional final with a chance to play for the state title for a second straight season.

In many ways this year’s success — which included a 12-0 drubbing of No. 4 Bangor in the A North semifinals over the weekend — traces to last season.

“That was very surprising. We were a really young team,” Skowhegan second baseman Julia Steeves said. “We just peaked at the right time. I was a sophomore, and it was insane that we made it that far.”

Head coach Lee Johnson admits that the 2016 season caught him off guard.

“I’ll be honest with you, I was a little bit surprised with how much we struggled during the regular season,” Johnson said of a team that went 9-7. “I always felt like the potential was there, but we just couldn’t seem to find that stretch where we did all the little things we needed to do to be successful. I think it came in a big, marquee win for us in the first round against Bangor at Bangor. For us to knock them off, it gave these kids a lot of confidence.”

That confidence carried over during the offseason and hasn’t waned. In fact, the Indians have only improved, with Saturday’s semifinal win over Bangor perhaps their best overall performance of a 16-2 season.

Lawrence coach Joey Marcoux, reflecting on his team’s season last Saturday, pointed out that there are few teams like Skowhegan which can “almost just show up and win.” While Johnson doesn’t necessarily believe that was the case in a stacked Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, he does know that confidence — particularly on a team without a single senior on its roster — plays a powerful role.

“Playoffs is all about confidence,” Johnson said. “It’s really about believing in yourself and knowing that you belong. Them making that run last year proved to them that they deserved that opportunity.

“We know Oxford Hills is a good team and that they’re talented. We know it’s going to be a dogfight. But these kids believe in themselves and each other, and they believe that they belong in that (regional championship) game.”

Sophomore right fielder Alyssa Everett was a junior varsity player for most of her freshman season. She’s part of several position players for the Indians this season who are either playing regularly for the first time or growing into a new position this season.

Only three positions on the field — pitcher, catcher and shortstop — are manned by the same player they were a year ago for the Indians. Three players graduated, while another starter moved to Madison.

“From the beginning, we all knew we were one of the better teams after our first few games,” Everett said. “We knew we could go this far again.”

If they don’t win a second straight Class A North crown on Wednesday, unlike last spring when they were “happy” just to be there and “surprised” by what was a memorable run, they will not enjoy similar emotions this time around.

“It’s all business,” Steeves said. “I’d be disappointed (if we don’t win), yes. I thought last year it would make us want this year even more, and it did. We want it so much this year.”

That mentality stems from both last season and years of growing up playing in youth leagues and on travel teams together.

“These kids have played a lot of softball in the past,” Johnson said. “They are used to being successful. I think they were surprised last year during the regular season when they weren’t as successful as they expected to be. Making that run in the playoffs reestablished that belief that they should be in that game.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

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Twitter: @TBarrettGWC