The most important hit Henry Clay's baseball team has had this spring was when it hit rock bottom.
The veteran Blue Devils got off to an awful start this season. They lost their first four games and seven of their first nine, but the lowest point was a 10-3 home-field defeat to Paul Laurence Dunbar on April 17 that dropped their record to 5-12.
"We were embarrassed," Henry Clay Coach Jordan Tarrence said. "Afterward, we sat them down and basically told them, 'Maybe this isn't the year. Maybe we should cash it in and bring up some young kids, because we've tried everything we can to make you play better, but you can't get it done.'"
After the coaches stated their case, the players met alone and hashed things out.
"They must've figured it out because since then we've played pretty well," Tarrence said.
The Devils have won seven of their last eight, including a two-game sweep of 42nd District rival Bryan Station and a win over Lafayette, which is No. 4 in the state.
What flipped the switch?
"We came together more as a family rather than just as a team," senior outfielder Blake Urbanek said. "And earlier we seemed to find ways to lose. Now we're finding ways to win. We've got that confidence now."
Senior shortstop Sam Jiunta said the turnaround came after the players realized "we had to hold each other accountable, but we also had to have each other's back."
That new mindset showed in three one-run victories in 24 hours this week. Henry Clay edged Bryan Station 2-1 Tuesday night, then swept a doubleheader Wednesday night by clipping Sayre 2-1 and Franklin County 4-3.
Urbanek drove in the winning run in all three games.
Henry Clay's recent play is what Tarrence expected all along from a senior-laden team loaded with experience.
Aaron McGeorge returned as the ace of the staff, and the senior right-hander has performed up to expectations. He's 5-1 with a 1.71 earned run average. He's improved his velocity and command of his off-speed pitches.
"I feel every time I get on the mound our team feels like it's going to win," he said.
McGeorge, one of the team's better hitters, has also played every outfield position and some second base.
Jiunta returns at short and Cameron Lord is a veteran at first. Juniors David McAnnelly and Cam Dacci have taken over at second and third, respectively. Seniors Trevor Hammonds and Brandon Lord (Cameron's twin brother) split catching duties.
"Overall, the infield is pretty solid, one of the best group of guys I've played with," Jiunta said.
The outfield is patrolled by Urbanek in left, Casey Womack in center and Ben Rider and McGeorge in right.
Except for McGeorge, Henry Clay's pitching has been inconsistent, although sophomore Ray Hukill went the distance against Dunbar, and junior Lindon May beat Lafayette to raise their stock.
Rider will come out of the bullpen to help flesh out the staff.
Urbanek leads the offense with a .364 average, 16 RBI and 14 runs. Also providing punch have been McAnnelly (.326), Jiunta (.282) and McGeorge (.281).
"We're still not where we want to be," Tarrence said. "We've got nine guys who can hit, and if we can get seven or eight of them to come out and have good at-bats, we can be really good."
Despite their early struggles, the Devils have played well against city teams, and they're 5-0 in their district, which includes Bryan Station, Sayre and Scott County.
Henry Clay will have extra motivation against Bryan Station in the district semifinals in two weeks because it's hosting the 11th Region Tournament.
"We want to be here playing on our field in front of our fans, and not just sitting around working shifts," McGeorge said.
Tarrence said the Devils' performance against Bryan Station, the way they responded in pressure situations, showed him they've buried the early-season negative vibes.
"When things got hairy in the Bryan Station game, the look on their faces was never a look of panic. It was a calm, we-got-this look.
"That showed me they believe in themselves now."