Despite a setback against Central Catholic on Wednesday, the Clay baseball team is a few wins shy of equaling last year's regular season City League mark.
Coach Karl Knierim's squad entered Friday's game against Woodward with a 6-1 record in the CL (10-7 overall).
The Eagles secured a thrilling 6-4, eight-inning win over St. Francis DeSales on Monday, then suffered their first league loss two days later in a 12-3 loss to Central.
That loss didn't diminish how far Clay has come after an 0-3 slide following a season-opening win over Southview.
"We've just done everything a little better," Knierim said. "Offensively, we're starting to hit ball with more consistency and our pitchers have done a better job of getting the ball over the plate. Defensively, we've tightened things up a little bit."
A year ago the Eagles went 10-1 in the CL before falling to St. Francis in the league tournament semifinals. They then lost to Northview in the opening round of the sectional tournament.
On Saturday, second-seeded Clay could gain some revenge when it faces the Northview-Woodward winner in the second round of the Division I sectional at Ned Skeldon Stadium. Southview earned the No. 1 seed.
"Sometimes you might have what you might call an easier game in the semifinals of the sectional," Knierim said. "Once you get by that game, you're going to have to beat somebody pretty decent. It's definitely not an easy walk."
The coach said he didn't know what to expect from this team when the season started, but he likes what's he's seeing now.
"When you get new players in, you don't know what you're going to get," said Knierim, in his 13th year at Clay. "We wait and see and we make adjustments and work on things on as as-need basis. We've had some big wins, which certainly helped. We beat St. John's early in the season and we had a good win against St. Francis."
The Eagles have stayed competitive despite the sore shoulders of senior pitchers Kyle Romstadt (1-0) and Drew Kuns (1-1). Neither has pitched in three weeks.
"They can play defensively and throw a little bit, but they haven't been able to pitch," Knierim said. "We've had some kids step up and do a good job for us."
Senior Mike Toth (1-1), a first-team all-league player last year, has helped pick up the slack on the mound along with juniors Austin Petroff (1-1), Jordan Wamer and Zach Cowell.
"They all have been instrumental in our success," Knierim said. "Andrew Dartt (3-0) has done a nice job for us, mostly in relief. Toth is a hard-nosed kid. He hits the ball and he's got very good speed. He's thrown a couple of solid ballgames for us that have been very helpful."
Through 16 games, the Eagles were hitting .325 as a team.
"That's definitely respectable," Knierim said.
Toth, who also plays third base, is hitting .450 and leads the team with 17 RBI and eight doubles. Kuns, who plays first base, is batting .419 with two home runs and 11 RBI. Kuns was first-team All-CL last season.
Romstadt, an outfielder, is hitting .406 with 10 RBI, while sophomore catcher/outfielder Austin Achter is batting .370 with one home run and 12 RBI. Waymer, who also plays first base, is hitting .355 with 14 RBI, while senior catcher Jonathon Labuhn is hitting .353 and "doing a very good job defensively behind the plate," Knierim said.
Three other players - junior outfielder Greg Shanks (.353), Petroff (.326) and senior shortstop Paul Zalar (.298) - are all batting near or above .300.
"One thing I like about these guys is they don't quit," Knierim said. "They persevere through things. For instance, our team ERA (5.30) is not real good, but a lot of times our pitchers have come in in tough situations and gotten big outs They've dug in and worked through some tough situations, and a couple times we've come through with some victories."