By PAUL HINES email@example.com
---- — MT. VERNON – It’s no secret the Rams baseball team is a close-knit group of athletes.
Talk to any one of them and words like brother, unselfish and cohesive tend to crop up when describing the team.
“There’s a lot of trust and loyalty on this team, and it shows in their play,” Mt. Vernon coach Tim Holloway said. “It’s a very fun group to be a part of, and I feel privileged to be able to help coach them this year.”
That unity has led Mt. Vernon to the cusp of a state title. The Rams are among the final four 3A teams still alive in the state tournament.
“It’s surreal. We’ve been told all year that we could do something special, and to finally actually feel like we’ve done something special and break a wins record and win the sectional championship and it hasn’t happened in a while, it’s just been awesome,” Mt. Vernon’s Colten Meador said. “It’s just been a fun time. It’s just a great way to end your senior year of high school.”
Today, Mt. Vernon faces Joliet Catholic at noon in the semifinal game.
The team is littered with seniors. Nearly all of the starters are in their final season. Jake Pike in right field is one of the few exceptions. Today’s starting pitcher Brock Fulkerson is also a junior.
“Everybody just kind of meshes together, and it’s a cohesive group as far as chemistry goes,” Mt. Vernon’s Landon Thomas said.
The group of players has already achieved things no other Rams squad has in the past. They broke the record for wins in a season and have made the deepest run in the postseason of a Rams squad in the history of the school. In the middle of the season, the Rams ripped off 14 consecutive wins. The stretch spanned more than a month.
The team is skilled and talented, but the way the Rams are drawn together helps them achieve even greater heights.
“We just are like a band of brothers almost,” Thomas said. “I think it’s easier to be loose that way. It’s a lot more easier to be loose when we’re winning, too.”
A fan standing near the Mt. Vernon dugout will hear the team encouraging each other. When players are asked to sacrifice themselves with a bunt to move a runner into scoring position, the Rams make sure the player knows they’ve done something critical even though the action might not grab attention from the outside.
“I know they would like to swing away when they want to, but (Holloway) is calling them to bunt, and everybody will meet the guy at the top step (of the dugout) and give him a high-five for that,” Thomas said.
Several of the Rams announced their arrival to Joliet’s Silver Cross Field with pictures through social media. Now it’s just a matter of waiting for game time.
“We’ll be ready to play,” Landon Thomas said. “We’ll be looking for a state championship hopefully.”
Win or lose the Rams will be together at the end.