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A day away from an appearance in the Virginia High School League Group 3A State Baseball Tournament, Lafayette baseball coach Rick Schenk said this year's team is one of the closest groups of players he has ever coached.
Much of that closeness stems from several family ties, with four sets of brothers who account for more than half of Lafayette's baseball roster. Schenk also coaches the team with his brother Tom Schenk and his son R.J. Schenk.
The family ties on the team have helped guide the the Rams to an appearance in the state tournament for the first time in nearly 25 years. The team will face 19-7 Monticello on Friday in Lynchburg.
This year's team being as successful has come as no surprise to Rick Schenk given the tight-knit nature of the team. The Rams went 16-6-1 to earn the state tournament berth.
"Anytime you have a good season or good team, a lot of it is bonding," he said. "Whether it's the majors, minors or college, it isn't always that you have the best talent. It's how the guys pick each other up. The good teams weren't always the best athletes. They were the ones that pick each other up and that are there for each other."
Andre and Luc Lipcius, both juniors, grew up playing baseball together in the backyard as kids. Andre Lipcius, Lafayette's starting shortstop, said the experience of starting on the same state-tournament bound team as his brother has been a fun one.
Pitcher Matt Keane, the older brother of catcher John Keane, shared the same sentiments as Lipcius.
"There's a certain comfort level there knowing your brother is there backing you up and it slows the game down a little for you," he said. "You kind of have those scenarios when you're playing whiffle ball as a kid where it's like the World Series game seven, and I guess it kind of transfers now."
Jeremiah Antle, older brother to Jared Antle, said the chemistry within the team extends beyond just the brothers on the team.
"I think we're an awesome team," he said. "We get along really well together and we're a tight group of guys. We'll be friends with these guys forever."
Chase Bauer, brother to Lafayette outfielder Austin Bauer, agreed with Jeremiah Antle and said the team is close both on and off the field. The team regularly hangs out off the field, which has helped develop a closeness that extends beyond the baseball diamond.
The Rams will need to lean on their closeness as a group as they prepare to face the rigors of the state tournament this weekend.
Lafayette has leaned on solid pitching and defense to reach the state tournament. The Rams pitching staff has a combined ERA of 2.13 and is led by Daniel Blankinship, who is 5-1 on the season with 35 strikeouts.
Behind the Lafayette pitching staff is a defense that has committed 38 errors while sporting a .949 fielding percentage. And while the Rams have been stout defensively, the offense has left something to be desired, Schenk said.
"Our pitching and defense has been excellent," he said. "I wish our hitting was a little bit better, but if you can win 1-0 or 2-0, I'll take it."
The Rams are batting .285 as a team and are led by the bats of the Lipcius brothers. Andre Lipcius is batting a team-high .395 with 19 RBIs, while Luc is sporting a comparable .391 batting average with 20 RBIs.
Instead of worrying about his bats, Schenk is concerning himself with trying to find information on Lafayette's opening-round opponent, Monticello. It is a task that has proven difficult for the Lafayette coach.
"I don't know what they have," he laughed. "I'm trying to find something about them and it's hard to find anything. They don't put things online up there like we do. It's difficult to find anything."
No matter what type of team Monticello proves to be, one thing is for certain: The Rams will show up and rally together not just as a team, but as a family.
Lafayette will take on Monticello at 3 p.m. Friday at Liberty University.