A few years ago, Sayre baseball coach Scott Sutton didn't have a player on his roster old enough to have a driver's license.
That's the kind of challenge a coach faces at a small school, and the challenges are especially daunting when the competition is as monstrous as Lexington baseball.
But Sayre keeps playing hard, swinging hard, and gaining confidence by being competitive against big schools.
The Spartans are 13-9, but seven of their losses have been to teams that are Class 6A in football, and another was to Lexington Christian, a baseball power in any class. Sayre lost one-run games in the last at-bat against Bryan Station and Scott County, and it blew an 8-2 lead against Henry Clay.
"We've been right there in almost all our games," Sutton said. "We've competed about every night out, and I've been real pleased with that."
Against schools its size, Sayre usually prevails — it won the Bluegrass Conference for the third year in a row. But the Spartans weren't happy about wasting a 6-0 lead and losing to rival Kentucky Country Day 8-7 in extra innings on Tuesday.
"We've got to have the same mentality against small schools like (KCD) as we do against teams like Henry Clay," Sayre sophomore Cabot Haggin said. "We can't have a letdown."
Haggin is Sayre's catalyst. The sophomore standout is the ace of the pitching staff, a sure-handed shortstop and a solid hitter (.419 batting average, 36 runs).
"Cabot was (third-team) All-City as an eighth-grader and freshman, and he keeps getting better," Sutton said.
Junior catcher Nick Klus is hitting .410 with 27 RBI and has made dramatic improvement defensively.
Klus said close losses to Bryan Station and Scott County have taught Sayre a valuable lesson.
"We need to finish strong," he said. "We have to be able to pull things off in the last inning.
"I think we can do that if we get back to fundamentals and not try to do too much."
Senior outfielders Alex Gaines (.373) and Thomas Bowers (.352) have been steady all season.
Junior second baseman Ward Roberts (.348) hits in the lead-off spot. "He's the epitome of a baseball player," Sutton said.
Sophomore Brendan McCray (.314) has also been consistent at the plate.
Haggin says the Spartans offense is the team's strength.
"One-through-nine, there's no downfall at all," he said. "We don't hit home runs, but we can play small ball and keep the pressure on."
Roberts, sophomore Griffin Patterson and eighth-grader Ray Brewer have helped shore up the pitching staff. Patterson also plays third, and Brewer splits time between the outfield and third base.
The 42nd District tournament is less than two weeks away. Sayre will be an underdog in the field that also includes Bryan Station, Henry Clay and Scott County.
"I've been telling the kids, 'Look how you played in (regular-season) district games. ... You know you can get it done when it counts,' " Sutton said.
"We've shown we can play with those guys. The next step is to beat them."