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by Doug Flanagan / College Sports, Wenatchee World
Printed March 24, 2015

WENATCHEE – In order to contend for a Northwest Athletic Association East Region baseball championship, it behooves teams to sweep a fair amount of their doubleheaders against other East squads.

That’s a task that’s easier said than done. It’s tough for a team, no matter what kind of talent is has, to be better than its opponent for 18 innings. Game days are long, and absolute focus is required to end those days with the two victories that teams seek.

That’s why Wenatchee Valley College coach Dustin Willis and his staff emphasize the mental side of the game as much as they do.

It’s easy to be better than a team for three or four (innings), or maybe even nine,” Willis said. “But to consistently beat a club that’s trying to beat you 18 (innings) in a row is a tough thing to do. That’s where toughness, competitiveness, focus, consistency — words that have nothing to do with skill — come into play and become very, very important.”

Willis believes that the gap in talent level of most of the East Region teams actually isn’t that large. He believes, then, that focus and competitiveness are key separators – elements of the game that divide the top four teams that will qualify for postseason play from the bottom four teams that will see their campaign end at the conclusion of the regular season.

One out of five, or one out of seven or eight kids from (the players’) high school leagues are now playing at this level,” he said.

We (ask) the guys, ‘How did you do against those types of guys when you were in high school, in those playoff games, in those tough situations, when you had a little bit of adversity, facing a big-time guy on the mound or a big-time guy at the plate? Because now you’re facing those guys every time. There’s a certain level of toughness and competitiveness that comes with meeting your match on the field. Are you going to break that guy’s will, or is he going to break yours?’ That’s something we try to focus on quite a bit with our guys.”

Last year, the Knights admittedly struggled with the mental aspect of the game. They struggled with it too much, actually – they finished with a 14-26 (9-19 East) record, out of the postseason.

But with a sophomore-heavy team in 2015, they hope to learn from past experiences and qualify for the playoffs. 

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