As practice was ending Monday at Scott Park, the University of Toledo baseball team huddled up one last time before boarding buses to Chillicothe, Ohio, for the Mid-American Conference baseball tournament.
After a quick pep talk from coach Cory Mee, the call went out for "MAC champs on three" from one of the Rockets, followed emphatically by a collective "one, two, three, MAC champs!"
But before the crowd could disperse, Mee quickly nixed any thoughts of a MAC championship for the time being. There were too many opponents still standing between UT and its ultimate goal, so he instead had the Rockets call out a different rallying cry: "One, two, three, earn it!"
Joe Corfman got his first taste last year of just how much of a grind the four-day MAC tournament is and how important keeping your focus on the present is to having success.
As a freshman utilityman, Corfman helped UT become one of the last two teams standing in the eight-team, double-elimination tourney before the Rockets ultimately fell to Kent State in the 2009 championship game.
This time around, the Rockets believe the lessons they learned last year will help them in the pursuit for a MAC title, which begins at 12:30 p.m. today against sixth-seeded Miami.
"You have to take it one game at a time," Corfman said. "We have to keep our focus on playing Miami first."
Mee has imprinted that belief on his players all week, but they found that out first-hand last season.
"It was nice to get that experience last year," Corfman said. "Just knowing the toll it takes on your body and the heat and staying hydrated and all those things. But mainly, just not looking ahead and staying focused."
Because there are so many teams in the tourney, play gets underway today, tomorrow and Friday at 9 a.m., with the last game each day scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Because of the game schedule, teams aren't able to take batting practice on the field at V.A. Memorial Stadium.
"You have to be ready to play at any time," said UT junior shortstop Chris Dudics, who holds a MAC-record 37-game hitting streak. "Last year we played a game that didn't end until after midnight. You just have to always be ready."
"But really, it's not too hard to stay focused when there's an [NCAA] regional berth on the line."
The Rockets enter as the No. 3 seed after finishing one game behind MAC West Division champion Central Michigan, despite taking two out of three games against then-division leader Ball State last weekend.
UT also grew quite a bit more battle-tested, winning twice with walk-off hits in the ninth inning against the Cardinals.
"Our guys did a really good job of competing until the end," Mee said, who was named MAC coach of the year last night. "That's one thing I really complimented our team on at the end of the series. I hope that's one thing we've learned, that you play hard until the game's over, and if you do, you're going to give yourself a chance for something great to happen."
The Rockets are hoping for more greatness in the next four days so that they can clinch their first MAC title in school history.
"We finished strong, and after last weekend we know it's never over," Dudics said. "We have that confidence now that we can come back from anything."
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