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Loudonville puts it all together for title run

By CHRIS SNOW Published: May 9, 2017 4:00 AM
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Loudonville's baseball team set its team goals at the beginning of the season and one of them was winning the Mid-Buckeye Conference title.

Check that one off the list.

The Redbirds, 17-5 overall and 11-0 in the MBC, clinched the outright conference crown on Tuesday after defeating Central Christian. The championship is the team's third in the last four years.

"It's a pride factor that we took a league title," Loudonville coach Brandon Grimes said. "It's always fun for our guys that get those honors at the end of the year and get to go to the MBC Banquet and get that plaque that says you won a league title."

However, LHS now has its eyes set on a more extensive vision -- making a long postseason run. That journey begins at home on May 10 versus the winner of Smithville and Norwayne, which play the day before.

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"Our guys really want to make that deep tournament run," Grimes said. "We've had some decent tournament runs over the past couple years. Our guys see that we have the potential to keep reaching those next steps in a tournament run.

"But you have to keep making the progress individually. Taking care of your regular season. Taking care of your improvements that go along with that to try and make those tournament runs. Our guys are really focused on trying to get back to the districts and then try to advance and win a district title."

Grimes cites the practice of basic baseball fundamentals as to why his team has been successful this year and said his team doesn't do anything flashy in compiling its wins.

"The repeated repetition in baseball is what does it," Grimes said. "We do different techniques as far as our ground ball fielding and how we want to catch fly balls.

"After that, it is just about repeating those positive and correct mechanics and making sure that the old premise of you practice until you get it right, and then once you get it right, you practice until you can't get it wrong."

Heading into this season, Grimes and his coaching staff knew that their pitching depth was going to be a strength for them.

Logan Fisher is 4-1 and has a 1.69 ERA over 37 1/3 innings to anchor the Loudonville pitching staff. Garett Fry, who could not pitch last year due to an elbow ailment, has provided a big boost for LHS this season, pitching to a 1.17 ERA over 24 innings. Mike Serrato (3-1, 3.85 ERA over 20 innings), Justin VanSickle (2-2, 4.39 ERA over 22 1/3 innings) and Dylan Polen (2-0, 3.00 ERA over 11 2/3 innings) round out the main pitchers used.

"We feel like on any given day that we can throw five or six starting pitchers out there that we're very comfortable with," Grimes said. "Logan has really developed into one of the best pitchers in our area now. He has really made himself into an elite pitcher."

At the plate, Polen leads Loudonville in batting average (.472), runs (24) and RBIs (18). LHS -- which has a team average of .310 -- has received key contributions from multiple players: Connor Young (.382, 22 runs, 15 RBIs); Mason Huffman (.345, 8 doubles, 17 RBIs); and VanSickle (.326, 15 runs).

"Dylan Polen has really stepped forward as one of the premier baseball players in this area and probably across the state," Grimes said. "He's a great athlete. I think people have seen his batting average and the runs he produces. We've got him at the top of the lineup because I felt like we needed help getting our leadoff guy on base more often this year to help produce more runs."

Loudonville had a lot of young players at key positions to start the season, but those players have steadily improved as each week passes. However, there were some adjustments to be made since a lot of the players had never played together on the varsity level.

It did not take long for the team to come together, though, according to Grimes. Once they did gel, the team formed a brotherhood in every sense imaginable.

"They kind of gelled together pretty quickly," Grimes said. "As far as getting to know each other, like each other, really supporting each other. They have the brother atmosphere in the locker room a lot of times where they can kind of rip each other a little bit, give each other a little bit of crap, but at the same time when we step on the field, they have each other's backs."

The Redbirds used a pair of losses to Clear Fork on April 8 -- which dropped them to 3-3 overall -- as the turning point in their season.

"I think that was kind of the tipping point in the season," Grimes said. "The guys realized that the only difference between a really good baseball team and an average baseball team usually is that the really good baseball teams do things the right way all the time."

Since those two losses, Loudonville has won 14 of its 16 games.


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