It is the head coach's responsibility to know the pulse of his or her team, so when Clay's baseball team dropped an 8-0 decision to St. John's Jesuit in a Division I district semifinal last Thursday, Karl Knierim knew just how to handle the situation.
Four days later the Eagles bounced back - barely - with a 6-5 win over that same St. John's team in the City League tournament semifinals.
"The game of baseball, it’s a funny game," said Knierim, Clay's 13th-year coach. "One day you can be like we were on Thursday, when we had two hits, and you can come out the next day and pound the ball all over the park. We had been hitting the ball all over the place, so I wasn't too concerned about that."
After the district tourney loss, Knierim had his team practice on Friday before giving them a day off on Saturday. The Eagles were right back on the diamond for practice on Sunday.
"They were fine," Knierim said. "We talked after the (district) game that it's a tough loss and we just didn't produce offensively. We've got to regroup and get ready for the final four and keep our nose to the grindstone and keep working."
Monday's win over St. John's Jesuit at Scott Park didn't come easy. The Eagles committed eight errors and had six base runners thrown out, including four at home plate.
Knierim is Clay's third base coach, and therefore responsible for sending runners to the plate.
"It was a frustrating game," he said. "Conditions dictated that St. John's, with the wind and everything, they weren't playing very deep in the outfield. When we got hits, their outfielders got to the ball very quickly and it made decisions quite difficult."
Not to worry. The Eagles bounced back with a more efficient 8-6 victory in the title game over defending CL champion Central Catholic. It was the second league title in three years for Clay (17-8), the No. 1 seed that went 10-1 in CL regular-season play for the second straight year. With the championship, it completed a sweep of CL diamond championships this year that also included the Clay softball team.
"When you talk about a total team effort, it really exemplifies this team," said Knierim, who also won three Great Lakes League titles at Clay. "It's been everybody doing their job. When you look at the City championship series, the final four City teams, that goes back to early in the season to get yourself in position to get to the final four. We've gotten a lot of contributions from everybody."
The Eagles started five seniors - Drew Kuns, Mike Toth, Kyle Romstadt, Paul Zalar and Matt Murray - in the final four this year. None of those players were starters when Clay won the title two years ago.
Toth pitched six innings against Central and gave up 10 hits in six innings.
"Mike helped us a ton on the mound," Knierim said. "When Drew and Kyle had some shoulder problems and couldn't pitch, Mike stepped up in a starting role and got some good wins against some quality teams. He pitched well against St. Francis, he beat Start and he came out and kept us in the game against Central. He's a hard-nosed kid, and he stepped up big for us in that role."
Kuns pitched seven innings in relief of Romstadt in the win over St. John's, then came back to pitch a 1-2-3 ninth inning in the win over Central.
"He was efficient," Knierim said of Kuns. "He didn't throw a lot of pitches. He was throwing strikes and was around the plate and felt good. After throwing seven innings, he said his arm felt pretty good and he would be able to give us an inning if he needed to."
Senior catcher Jonathon Labuhn was named the most valuable player of the final four after going 6-for-8 with four RBI in the two games. Labuhn drove in the go-ahead run in the fifth inning against the Irish.
Junior center fielder Greg Shanks went 4-for-6 in the semifinal game, including the hit that scored Austin Achter in the 10th inning for the winning run.
"We had a lot of guys contribute," Knierim said. "This team worked extremely hard this year and the kids made a lot of improvement. They stepped up, especially in some big games when it started to come down to crunch time. "