Bloomington Kennedy's baseball team fell to 1-8 on April 25 following a loss to Burnsville, a defeat that prompted coach Matt Hanson and his staff to hold a closed-door meeting.
Yelling? Screaming? Begging?
None of the above. Instead, Hanson decided to take a page from Burnsville's winning formula.
"I knew some of their pitchers had thrown before school early in the year," Hanson said of the Blaze, which was runner-up to Eden Prairie in last year's Class 3A state championship game. "So I really challenged our guys. What do we need to do more? What do we need to do better? We were disappointed at that point, but we weren't too far off."
Kennedy's players began showing up before school on game days to get in some extra swings. Slowly but surely, it paid off.
The team has raised its batting average nearly 100 points since that 1-8 start. The Eagles were the No. 10 seed in the Class 3A, Section 6 tournament, but bucked the odds and pulled through to make its first state tournament in over a decade.
Five days after knocking off Hopkins 25-7 in the final, Hanson was still chuckling about the feat.
"This kind of accomplishment," Hanson said, "makes you smile every day."
Kennedy (12-13) gets no favors in the first round. It will face Maple Grove at 3 p.m. Thursday at Midway Stadium in the opening round. The Crimson (25-1) lost its only game of the season 4-1 to Coon Rapids, but rebounded to defeat the Cardinals twice in the Section 5 final.
A team with those recent experiences knows no team can be taken lightly, and Hanson is not planning for Maple Grove to sleepwalk through the first round.
"Yes, we're the underdog; the Cinderella of this tournament," he said. "And it will be a surprise if we keep winning. But it's the state tournament. We expect every team to be ready."
That includes the Eagles, who have gotten to this point thanks to clutch hitting from Zach Horn (.444 average), Arich Juberian (.390) and Kevin Houts (.350) and the reliable arm of Austin Nordby (6-2, 3.63 ERA).
"It's a testament to the work our guys have put in above and beyond," Hanson said. "It's great that we've put ourselves in this position."