APPLETON (WLUK) -- For the first time in 11 years Appleton North will be playing at the state softball tournament. Any time a team accomplishes this feat it's a big deal, but the Lightning now must look ahead to a Division 1 state quarterfinal Thursday against undefeated Sun Prairie.
"Coach has been talking to us all week that winning sectionals is over," senior third baseman Sara Allison said. "We have to move onto the next step. We have to play as hard as we can as soon as we get down to Madison."
North (20-7) plays Sun Prairie (26-0), the top seed in the tournament, at 10 a.m. Thursday at Goodman Diamond. As excited as North is to make state, it now has to readjust its thinking as senior pitcher Marissa Mullen said the team's goal at the start of the season was to reach the state tournament.
That has been, so now what?
"Just really trying to soak in the moment and enjoy this process because we've earned it and because we understand it," Mullen said. "We also have to try to understand that our goals are bigger than this and we want to come home with some hardware."
North is the underdog but does that really matter? The outcome will be decided "between the lines" and the Lightning is playing its best softball of the season. It has won its last seven games by a combined score of 51-12.
"Definitely through the postseason we feel like we've been clicking simultaneously and that's allowed us to put some real good games together and get some wins on the field," Mullen said.
Playing in the state tournament will be a new experience for the Lightning and coach Mike Mullen wants to make sure his team is focused. He talked about the atmosphere, the big scoreboard and crowd.
It's something North has not experienced this season.
"It's easy to say it's just another game; it's very different," North coach Mike Mullen said. "We have more people coming than normally come and they're all wearing the same shirt and it's just a different environment.
"We typically don't have you guys (media) at practice, so we're enjoying the ride and it's cool stuff that we have that but we're really focusing on not having that distract us."
The Lightning hopes that distraction lasts through the championship game on Saturday.
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay