Lexington Christian's baseball mantra this spring — "Stay hungry!" — isn't mystical or spiritual, but just a simple reminder of what the Eagles need to do to regain respect.
"It's a hunger to no longer be the laughingstock of the district," senior pitcher/outfielder Dima Ballard said.
"We had that great team in 2010, but since then we've kind of fallen off the map in most people's eyes."
After winning the 11th Region and reaching the state tournament five years ago, LCA lost 26 of its next 31 games to 43rd District rivals Lafayette, Lexington Catholic, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Tates Creek. The Eagles did win their last four regular-season district games of 2014, but then fell in the district tournament for the fourth year in a row.
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So far this season, LCA has continued to rebuild its reputation by going 14-3. The highlights have included clinching a spot in the Touchstone Energy All "A" Classic at Whitaker Bank Ballpark Derby weekend, and a victory over Tates Creek last week that ended a nine-game losing streak to the Commodores.
"We've had the talent the past few years, and now we've finally matured," Ballard said. "'Stay hungry' is a mindset to be conscious every day of what our goals are."
Keith Galloway, who coached the Eagles to the 2005 state title, had high expectations for this team because it's loaded with seniors, who are complemented by talented underclassmen.
"In a lot of ways we're where we thought we could be and wanted to be," he said. "So I'm not really surprised by what we've done so far.
"We haven't gotten a lot of respect or attention yet, but that's OK. We like to just go about our business and keep getting better."
LCA returns almost its entire everyday lineup, and two of its top pitchers in Ballard and Drew Schacht.
Schacht, a senior who plays center field when he's not on the mound, got the win over Tates Creek by battling through some tight spots.
"I've been in those situations before and learned from them," he said. "You've gotta grind it out."
Galloway thinks Schacht and Ballard benefit from having played other sports.
Schacht exhibited the same grit in helping LCA's basketball team win the regular-season district title. Ballard played quarterback for the Eagles' football team.
Ballard said he brought a "bulldog" attitude from football to baseball. "Being down a touchdown in the fourth quarter and knowing you have to make a play is like having two outs with the bases loaded and knowing you've gotta deliver a good pitch," he said. "You've gotta be mentally strong."
The Eagles have depth at pitching, with Connor Milslagle, Aaron Miley, Jax Blair and Austin Dick backing up Ballard and Schacht.
LCA has been solid defensively. The infield is anchored by three-year starter Robbie Stephens at short. Frederick Rupp is at third, Nick Hostetter at second and Andrew Barker at first. Hunter Wills and Isaac Shewmaker split time at catcher.
"A very veteran infield," Schacht said. "Probably one of the best to come through this school in a long time."
Flanking Schacht in the outfield are Ballard and Blair. Ty Stephens and Nelson Lane also see action.
Galloway said before the season that a key to LCA's success would be cutting down on strikeouts to bolster its offense. "No team on the high school level will be flawless on defense," he said. "If you can put the ball in play, that's half the battle."
So far the Eagles have done that.
Despite its winning ways of late, LCA still feels overlooked as a district and region contender. But it doesn't mind being an underdog.
"We like that," Stephens said. "It just kind of fuels the fire. It makes us more determined to prove everybody wrong, and we play with a chip on our shoulder.
"We know we can't take a day off. The seniors realize this is our last go-around, so we've got to stay focused every game. It's all part of the mindset of staying hungry."