With several members of the Ridgewood baseball team coming into the spring after a successful winter on the basketball court, Spartans' head coach Seth Spivey knew something special was brewing.
"As a coach, you always want that. It makes your job that much easier,'' he said. "If a guy's previous sport isn't successful, he can come in feeling down, or with only his individual goals in mind. If they've had success in something else, that's when they really start to grasp the team concept.''
Heading into the season's stretch drive, the Spartans have done more than grasp the team concept. Among their 14-3 record is a spotless 10-0 Lincoln Trail Conference mark that has Ridgewood a half-game up on Mercer County as it enters today's league doubleheader against Princeville.
After winning 23 games last spring and with the bulk of its players returning, Ridgewood entered 2013 with the bar set much higher, and the Spartans have thus far delivered. Their only losses have come to a pair of bigger schools, Galesburg and Geneseo, along with Orion.
"They really set high expectations for themselves after last year, with so much of our core coming back,'' said Spivey. "They felt like they were capable of achieving some high goals.''
One of those returners, senior pitcher/third baseman Nick Ragan, has played at a high level. He is batting .472 with 22 RBIs. Ragan is also 4-0 on the mound and has only given up one unearned run in 21 innings, striking out 31 batters. He anchors a rock-solid pitching corps that includes junior Noah Shannon (5-0, 1.25 ERA) and sophomores Nate Humphrey (3-0, 1.02 ERA, 2 saves) and Ridge Greenman (2-1, 2.82 ERA).
"Having a deep staff helps,'' said Spivey, "especially this year, with all the rainouts and rescheduled games we've had to deal with.''
Humphrey has also stepped it up at the plate, hitting .389 with 22 RBIs, followed by Greenman (.341) and senior standout Dusty Werner's .327 clip.
"I think everything we thought our team was, is,'' said Spivey. "We have a deep pitching staff, and outside of the Galesburg game, we've fielded the ball really well. It was a matter of how much we were going to hit, and for the most part, we still have, although we're still going to see some good pitching coming up.''
That includes Saturday's impending doubleheader at Galva, where Ridgewood will face 7-1 Galva-Williamsfield's brother duo of James and Tyler Doubet. With a 6-1 LTC mark, the Wildcats are also very much a player in a very tight conference race.
After that, the Spartans face Annawan-Wethersfield for the second time next Monday, then take on Mercer County next Tuesday and Thursday, all games that could make or break their title aspirations. But again, Spivey looks to his players' wintertime experiences for warmth.
"These guys have played in tight basketball games over the winter and came out on top,'' he said. "It's comforting to know they've been in these pressure situations. It's different sports, but the same mental aspects. Sometimes, it's really not that different from one sport to the other.''