For years, Ballard High Schoolâ€™s boysâ€™ basketball program has stood at the forefront of athletic prominence in the city, state and, in some years, the nation. Recently, Coach Renner and his team have had to step aside to share the limelight with both the softball and baseball programs at the school.
The softball program, coached by Alan Jones, is 19-3-1 this year, striving to make a strong push toward a state championship, and the baseball team is not far behind. In the 2015 season, they shocked the seventh region by defeating both Male and St. X in the regional tournament to advance to the state tourney.
David Trager, head coach for the baseball team, believes exposing his players to top teams in the nation builds greater confidence as they participate in local and state competition.
â€œIf you continue to play around good baseball â€“ and not just talent but good baseball, guys who want to go out there and compete â€“ that is what translates. The more our guys see that and the more our guys are around that, then the more they expect themselves to do that. So playing high-quality teams and high-quality programs really helps us as a program. Our standards are held high, and we expect ourselves to go out and compete with those teams.â€
During the week of spring break, most programs travel out of state to compete in a tournament. Ballard, on the other hand, hosts its own tournament and brings in some of the top-ranked teams in the country.
â€œHaving these teams come in from out of town while we are on spring break is kind of the icing on the cake,â€ Trager adds. â€œ[We] can break things down with individuals and focus on things that we need to work on as individuals and as a team. We are able to play some high-quality competition and at the same time try to implement those tweaks here and there.â€
Although Ballard may come up short in some games against high-quality competition, the aim is to raise the bar in the programâ€™s expectations and to invigorate the troops as they draw close to postseason play.
â€œWe have struggled against some of the teams we have played thus far, and it has been interesting to see how some of the guys have reacted to the adversity. Everybody is starting to find their niche and their role. That is going to be important for us as we go into the postseason,â€ Trager says.
Perhaps going through a rough and rigid schedule early on in the season is the formula that Ballard uses to build itself up to a place where the players are playing their best ball by the end. This method almost certainly has its ups and downs, but there are 11 seniors in the ball club who have been together through it all.
â€œWe have all been through the highs and lows together,â€ affirms Haynes Routt, senior first baseman on the team and highly respected for his character and leadership. â€œWe have all been through the same hardships, so we all know what it feels like. We know how we want to get back [to state].â€
Routt says the â€œpowerhouses in our pitching and our defenseâ€ have been behind the team all year, having held their opponents to 4.6 runs through 17 games.
When it comes to the offensive end, theyâ€™ve depended much on No. 29, senior and first year player Jake Snider. He hails as a transfer from Illinois and his father is one of the assistant coaches now at the University of Louisville. He will playing for the Cardinals next season, but has been embracing this one-year ride with the Bruins, hoping to lead them back to state.
â€œBeing the new guy is kind of different,â€ he says. â€œBut the team really embraced me as a player and a person, and it was really great. So far, I have had a great time and we are getting closer as a team, so it will be interesting to see how we finish. Everyone wants to win a state title, but right now, we are taking it game by game.â€
Ballard baseball has certainly earned its right as one of the preeminent athletic programs at the school. Coach Trager has established a new work ethic in an effort, hopefully, to make the team a force to be reckoned with in the city and state for years to come. VT