By PAUL HINES email@example.com
---- — MT. VERNON – One by one Rams baseball players walked up to Brennan Klein field Wednesday.
It was the day after the biggest win in the program's history and the evening before their departure for the 3A state finals in Joliet.
For them, it was just back to working hard.
“This group doesn't get shook. They're very loose,” Mt. Vernon coach Tim Holloway said. “They're very confident, and it shows on the field.
“They will represent our school and Mt. Vernon well.”
The Rams face Joliet Catholic at noon Friday in the state semifinal game. The Hilltoppers have ripped through their competition in the playoffs. Joliet Catholic allowed just a single run in the opening four rounds. The Hilltoppers beat Chicago Harlan 5-3 in the super sectional to qualify for state.
Joliet Catholic has racked up five straight regional titles and during a run from 2008 to 2010 placed all three years at the state finals.
“I'm aware of what they've done, but we're not worried as a team about anything but us going up there and playing against the ball,” Holloway said.
Center fielder Landon Thomas said he thought the team had a chance to make a deep run at the beginning of the season.
“It's a reality now,” Thomas said. “It's fun just fun to think about it and the path that we took to get here. And now (today) we're leaving. We're just going to come ready to play.”
First baseman Colten Meador added that he travels north without nerves, just confidence in his team.
“I think we're such a fun group of guys, and we don't really take things to be nervous,” Meador said. “We do our thing. We play baseball and whatever happens happens.”
The Rams have been solid in all areas of the diamond, but the team's unselfishness helps it stand out.
“There's not a guy on this team that will go up there and have a selfish at-bat,” Holloway said. “They will do whatever it takes for the team. And there's a lot of trust and loyalty on this team.”
Brock Fulkerson will be the Rams starting pitcher against the Hilltoppers. The junior toes the rubber at looking for a school record.
Fulkerson tied the Mt. Vernon mark for wins in a single season with his complete-game outing in the Rams sectional championship game against Triad. A victory would give Fulkerson a dozen for the season.
“If he throws like he always does, then we feel like we'll have a chance to be successful,” Holloway said. “He seems to enjoy the competition and the challenge.”
Holloway said the focus for his team is to stay the same. He added the Rams schedule has prepared them for this moment.
“We feel like we've played good competition, and we feel like we've seen teams as good as what we're going to see up there,” Holloway said. “There's good baseball in southern Illinois, and our schedule has provided us plenty of opportunities to see those types of teams.”