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By Will Korn 

Talking Sports: Sidney Seniors Ready to Defend District Crown

 

Will Korn

After a taxing but successful run through the "dog days" that is the summer baseball season, the Sidney Post 17 senior team will finally make that all-important trek 79 miles north to Alliance for the highly-anticipated district tournament this weekend.

A potential repeat as district champs and an appearance in the state tournament later this month is the culmination of everything that's happened this season, one in which the seniors finished 22-11.

"Playoff baseball" as Sidney manager Mark Onstott described it, is the most accurate synonym for this weekend's round of games. As the tournament's top seed, Sidney received a first round bye and will not play its opening game until Saturday night.

But once the first pitch of this tournament is thrown, seeding, records, regular season stats and everything else vanishes. It is the age-old rule in sports-and one we've seen especially pronounced in baseball at all levels of competition-"the playoffs are a brand new season."

In the last six years, Sidney has brought home five district titles between the senior and junior teams. But don't think for a minute that the program believes making it six for seven will be anything but a challenge worthy of a top seeded team's efforts.

The Sidney seniors and coaches are all well aware of the targets on their backs and are prepared to go up against the other district teams, all of which have them squarely in their crosshairs.

"We're going to be ready and we're going to be focused with our heads down ready to work," Travis Garska said.

"They [the other district teams] are going to want to come out and beat us," senior pitcher and infielder Kyle Burton added. "We need to bring our A-game and just play as a team."

The same thought is voiced by the coaches.

"Every year our program feels that it has something to prove," said assistant coach Tommy Arellano. "That brings out a lot of intensity from us [the coaching staff] that the kids pick up on."

Effective preparation is hard work, but as Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez told Smalls in "The Sandlot," "don't think too much-if you're thinking too much you aren't having fun."

Onstott wants his players to have fun playing the game, however heated and edgy it will certainly become over the weekend.

"These young men are working hard this week at practice yet are remaining loose and having fun as a team," Onstott said. "Expect them to play hard and enjoy this game as friends and teammates."

Sure, go ahead and call it a pressure situation.

You wouldn't be wrong. After all, the only thing more difficult to do in sports than winning a championship is repeating as champions.

Sidney knows it will be walking into a hostile atmosphere Saturday night in Alliance, with a possible matchup against the host team and its bitterest rival looming. But this program is prepared for whatever might be thrown at it this weekend.

The thought of facing Alliance ace Jayden Holman, who no-hit Sidney two weeks ago at Bower Park, isn't fazing anyone on this team. Sometimes the best way to prepare is to block out all other distractions and focus solely on oneself and those around him.

As for Holman, the Sidney players don't even want to hear it. It could be any other pitcher in districts on the mound. It just happens to be one with an extraordinary fastball-curveball combo-one that they've seen and have confidence they can get to.

"We are staying focused by not talking to or about the other teams," junior Bradey Holtz said. "That's practicing with the right mindset."

Still, because it is a phenomenal pitcher facing Sidney, a few tablespoons of cool composure and of a fiery, do-or-die attitude mixed together are the special recipe needed Saturday for Sidney to get ahead by the winning the first game.

Just add water-the simple, straightforward game that Sidney is accustomed to playing-to the mix and then stir well.

"We'll compete like we have all season and play solid, fundamental baseball like we usually do," said second sacker Jaden Sears, who has been excellent defensively throughout the summer.

The best news in all of this?

Sidney is swinging some pretty darn hot bats right now and is undoubtedly the most potent offensive club in this tournament.

Sears and Colton Onstott were both hitting over .500 from the last game in Gering through last Wednesday's demolition of Buckley in Chappell.

Those two are leading the team in season batting average at .352 and .414 respectively.

Sidney boasts a complete offense that features the trio of key tools: speed, contact and power.

And it isn't compartmentalized. Several guys combine tools and when you look at this lineup and see that at least three or four of them are hybrid hitters, this squad really becomes dangerous at the plate.

Add in the fact that no other district team has a player on Colton Onstott's level of ability-an elite frontline catcher, as well as the team's premier hitter and possibly even the team's top pitcher.

Also throw recent returnee Lane Harvey back into the equation. He's a plus defender at shortstop and is another quality right-handed arm on the mound. He's only had 10 at-bats with Sidney this season, but he's hitting .500 and has put up a nice, fat zero in the strikeout column.

Sidney definitely has the all the pieces in place to repeat as district champs. The unpredictable nature of baseball will likely throw a wrench into the machine at some point in this tournament.

But if these guys stay grounded, make all the simple plays, continue to pound the ball and get all the little things right, they'll be playing for state once again.

 

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