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Kingsmen aim to improve poor post-season performances

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The Nazareth baseball team does not want to be the Buffalo Bills.

The Kingsmen returned to the Catholic High School Athletic Association in 2014 and, since then, have been nothing short of dominant — at least in the regular season. Nazareth has come up short of its ultimate goal, falling in back-to-back championship games. This year, however, the Kingsmen intend to change that. This year, the Kingsmen refuse to be the Buffalo Bills — a team eliminated from each of the last 16 post seasons.

“I think being there two years in a row has made them more hungry,” coach Oggie Quiles said. “The hunger they have, these guys just don’t want to lose right now.”

Nazareth wrapped up the regular season with a perfect 14–0 record, but Kingsmen players aren’t willing to rest on their laurels. If anything, the record has just helped refocus the entire Nazareth roster.

This is a team that knows exactly how it feels to lose and, most importantly, a group of players who will do whatever it takes to make sure they don’t feel that again.

“This year’s team, I just feel like we came out with a stronger mindset,” senior catcher Augustin Quiles said. “We’ve been enforcing it all year, this is our year to win a championship. We just keep repeating that.”

There is, however, a difference between wanting to win and putting in the work to win. The Kingsmen have put in that work and it’s obvious in the box score.

In the squad’s 14 regular-season games, the Kingsmen averaged just over eight runs with a combined batting average of .352.

It’s a change of pace for Nazareth, a program that has long relied on its pitching to lead to championship berths. It’s also a welcome evolution.

“Last year, we weren’t as well-rounded,” infielder Mike Silva said. “We were more of a small-ball team with bunting and stealing every base we could. This year, we’re more all-around, and we can hit one through nine. We’re all making good contact on the ball.”

The Kingsmen have gotten a bit of extra confidence at the plate thanks to leadoff hitter Shamariah McCullough’s return. The junior missed much of last year with an injury, and his return to the lineup has helped spark the hitters behind him determined to drive McCullough — and his .509 batting average — in.

“He’s so fast, and he’s just so talented,” Quiles said. “He’s legit Division I, and not having him last year cost us. He leads the team in batting average, runs scored, stolen bases. He’s a big part of what we try to do offensively.”

Nazareth refuses to take anything for granted.

The Kingsmen know how difficult it was to wrap up the regular season undefeated. The team knows what it takes to get to a championship game, and it knows what other teams expect from them. Other teams expect them to come up short.

That, however, is something Nazareth refuses to accept.

This year, Nazareth is only going to accept a title.

“Now, more than ever before, I feel like we have more heart,” center fielder Jordan Serrano said. “You can feel the energy in the dugout and out in the field. We want it more than we ever did.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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