A walk-off home run in the ninth inning to beat Lakeside 2-1. A squeeze bunt in the ninth inning to beat M.L. King 12-11. A two-out hit two innings earlier just to extend the game to extra innings.
Those are three reasons why Miller Grove baseball coach Vince Byams says the Wolverines are ready to claim their first state playoff berth this season.
But Byams’ faith in his team goes beyond clutch hitting.
“The team camaraderie is really good,” Byams said. “They’re always scrapping for everything they get. Everybody knows their role so when they get a chance to be called in, they’re ready. We have a good mixture of senior leadership and young talent.”
Two years ago the Wolverines finished 17-9 and missed the state playoffs by one game. Last year the team wasn’t close to qualifying at 13-12. The Wolverines are 6-4 through March 22 and 1-1 in a rugged Region 6-AAAA.
Jabari Gayle, who had three hits and two RBIs, had the walk-off homer to beat Lakeside on March 18. Two days later, Davino West, in his only at-bat of the game, laid down a squeeze bunt in the ninth inning to drive in the winning run in a 12-11 win over M.L. King. Monte Reese had an RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game 1-1.
The Wolverines also lost to Forsyth Central 5-3 last week, but Uwem Udofia had his first home run of the season. Both Forsyth and Lakeside advanced to the state tournament last season.
“Last year we were more talented, but this year we have more of a team concept,” Byams said. “It makes a world of difference.”
Hard work in the offseason has helped build the bond. Many players play together in a fall baseball league, and all were part of early workouts during the fall that included running and weight lifting to prepare for the season.
“They knew what they needed to do to get better, and it does take teamwork,” Byams said. “They want to do the little things they need to do to be a team.”
Byams has seen evidence that the closeness of the team has paid dividends. After a player struck out twice in a recent game, a teammate tried to encourage him during the game and again on the bus after the game.
“They want to pull each other up and remind each other that this is a team,” Byams said. “They take it upon themselves to do that.”
Byams is hopeful the momentum built last week will continue as the Wolverines face Marist on March 26. The War Eagles are a perennial power and advanced to the Class AAAA state semifinals last season.
“We definitely stepped up last week, and I hope it carries over to Friday,” Byams said. “This group looks forward to games like that, and we mark them on our calendar. When you have a chance to play one of the best teams in the state, you’ve got to get up for that.”