COON VALLEY, Wis. -

The Westby baseball team has dealt with some tough losses on the way to the program's first state appearance since 1997.

Westby's ten seniors have had to deal with heartbreak before. In 2011, the Norsemen were only one out away from a state birth when they lost on a walk-off home run against Pardeeville in the sectional championship game.

But nothing could compare to the loss they would experience last summer.

In July of 2012 fellow classmate and close friend Kylie VonRuden died in a car accident.

The Norsemen are playing this season in Kylie's honor, a season that will conclude at the WIAA state baseball tournament.

"That's what our pink bands are for," said senior Nick Neely. "We've kind of dedicated our season to Kylie and her family."

"We say play for number five before each game because that was her softball number," said senior Alex Midtlien.

"It really pulled us all together," said senior Tyler Ihrcke. "Every win is more meaningful, doing it for people who can't."

In last Tuesday's sectional championship game, Parkview sent the game into extra innings. The Norsemen were reminded of two things - that loss to Pardeville two years ago, and that life is bigger than baseball.

"It helped a lot going through that, just to remember that you're lucky to be living and playing baseball," said Ihrcke.

"It says a lot about this team and their character and their heart," said head coach John Hamilton. "A lot of other teams would have packed it in and let that thing get away form them, but they didn't."

Making it to state is special for any team, in any year. But for Westby's seniors, making it this year is even more meaningful.

"Its not that we don't have anything to play for already, but it adds a little fire," said Midtlien."

"Just to have her looking down on us and helping us. This year just feels really special," said Neely.