By: Madison Feldhahn

After a heartbreaking end to the previous season, the Williamsburg Raiders mounted a dominating performance in the playoffs on their way to a state title.

The 2023 season meant more to the Williamsburg community than previous seasons have because of Tate Schaefer. Tate was diagnosed in 2018 with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, an aggressive form of childhood cancer. He lost his 27-month battle with cancer in March 2021. He was a huge fan of the Raiders and their softball team. The last softball game Tate watched was the Raiders’ heartbreaking 0-1 loss in the 2020 state championship. The 2023 Raiders dedicated their win to Tate.

The Raiders allowed just one run during the playoffs, outscoring their opponent 23-1. The performance was not a surprise to Adam Berte and his team.

“We were preseason number one, so we kind of expected to be one of the best teams. We really got off to a better start than we have in previous years,” said Berte. “Once postseason started, they turned it on. We won every game fairly easily.”

Star pitcher Peyton Driscoll was one of four seniors for the Raiders. The four-time All-State pitcher allowed just 42 runs all season and helped the team to 18 shutouts. Driscoll now plays at Kirkwood Community College. Jenna Thurm, a second-team All-State selection, played catcher for the Raiders and was named Most Valuable Player in the state tournament. She currently plays at Indian Hills Community College. Elle Ridgeway now plays at Simpson College. The Raiders also lost Rylie Metz to graduation.

Berte is not too worried about replacing his star seniors.

“I would say, maybe outside of catcher, we’re still in really good shape. We’re just kind of inexperienced at catcher. Jenna Thurm, the catcher, had a lot of experience and was MVP of the state tournament. That’s maybe the one spot where we’re maybe not quite ready to replace what she was able to do,” Berte said when asking about the seniors he lost. “We have the next player ready to go pretty much everywhere else.”

By the time the postseason rolled around, Berte had 13 players get 15 or so at-bats. Because of their experience, Berte feels the team will be ready to go and do what is needed. It will likely be pivotal in the Raiders’ title defense.

Sophomore pitcher Jersey Metz will likely be the starting pitcher for Williamsburg. Berte looks forward to seeing Metz take another step forward in her production. Outfield Shannon Finn is another key returner. Finn is committed to Kirkwood Community College.

“I’m just really expecting the girls that have been here before to really continue to progress and go out and do what we’ve typically done – play good softball and be in good shape,” Berte told Top Gun Events.

The Raiders play in the WaMaC conference, a very tough conference. 5 of the 12 teams finished in the top 15 rankings at the end of the season. The tough conference is a blessing in disguise for the Raiders.

“If you can do well in our league, you’re probably a top ten team in your class,” said Berte.

In addition to their tough conference, Berte schedules a few games with schools in higher classes. He enjoys the challenges these teams offer.

“Usually, those teams are a little more well-rounded, and they don’t just give you anything, so they’re good teams to play over the course of the year,” Berte said. “We accept the fact that we’re going to get beat a few times and it’s okay.”

The Raiders are looking to return to the state tournament and come away with another title. But Berte wants his players to enjoy the season, too. He recognizes the sacrifices his players make with Iowa’s unique summer season.

“Hopefully, even if their year isn’t exactly what they hoped it would be, they can still say, ‘This is a good thing that I was able to be a part of.’ I would say that’s definitely a goal of mine – to try and help the kids have that,” Berte said.

The Williamsburg Raiders will take on Cedar Rapids Kennedy on May 27 to start their title-defending season.

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