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Imagine for a moment that it’s regional tournament time.
There are two outs in the top of the seventh inning with a runner on second base, and the Vandal baseball team is nursing a one-run lead.
If that runner scores, the Vandals are one step closer to elimination.
Senior third baseman Matt Grove watches intently as the batter hits a sharp grounder his way and prepares to make the play.
When asked last week if he would be able to field a grounder and record an out in a situation like the one described above, Grove had a simple, but confident, answer.
“Yes I would,” he said. “I have the mentality to do it, and I know I can.”
There have been days of practice when Grove said he has taken up to 100 ground balls, which is part of the reason why he trusts his glove so much.
Grove’s work ethic and attitude are two reasons why coach Luke Hohlt is also confident Grove will field the vast majority of grounders hit his way during games.
“He wants the ball hit to him in a pressure situation,” Hohlt said. “I want them hit to him in a pressure situation.”
Even though the Vandals lost 6-0 last Wednesday against Breese Central, Grove made a couple plays on grounders late in that game to keep additional runners off base.
He prepares for such plays by fielding a variety of grounders during and outside of practice.
“I get out there outside of practice and have people hit me ground balls,” Grove said. “I have them hit to me left- and right-handed, so I can get to them quicker.”
His role on defense, however, doesn't stop at fielding grounders.
As the only senior infielder, it is important for Grove to encourage the pitcher in tough situations.
Any spectator standing along the third-base line could attest that Grove has no problem in that department.
"Come on, kid," Grove can be heard saying. "Let's go, kid."
Hohlt said that even though it's a bit tougher for Grove to be a leader because he has only played for two seasons, leadership is still a high-priced part of Grove's value.
“He is doing what he can,” Hohlt said. “He’s encouraging, and he’s going to be the third baseman most days, so you need a starter on the infield to be an encourager.”
Teams also need to strive for realistic goals, and for Grove and the Vandals, the goal is clearly defined.
“I’d like to be at least regional champs," Grove said. “To help get there, I'm going to make every play hit to me.”