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Eagles winning with new mental approach

File photo / Brian Yauger Cam Hollobaugh and the Kennedy baseball team will play Fort Loramie in a Division IV state semifinal Saturday.

For the first time in program history, Kennedy’s baseball team is in the final four.

After wins over Columbia Station (10-2) and Tiffin Calvert (7-2) in the regional round, Kennedy punched its ticket to the state tournament held at Canal Park in Akron.

For first-year coach Jim Ciambotti, a culture shift has been very important to the team’s success.

“We just tried to install our culture,” Ciambotti said. “How we wanted to do things day-in and day-out, practice, games, taking one day at a time. Focus on that day, don’t worry about 10 days from now or our opponent in two weeks. We’re worried about the practice at hand or the next game at hand.”

That approach has guided the team to a 20-9 record, and the Eagles have remained calm despite the ever-rising stakes.

“In the game of baseball, I think it’s very important that you stay on an even keel,” Ciambotti said. “I’ve told the kids, ‘This game can humble you.’

You think you’ve got it figured out and it can bury you the next day, or the next at-bat or the next pitch. It’s a game of failure. Baseball’s a game of failure, so you have to stay on an even keel and just try to stay as consistent as you can.”

While it may be the first time for the baseball team, the athletes on the team are no strangers to the big stage, which may explain the calmness.

In this academic year alone, Kennedy has had two teams reach the state level. Along with the baseball team, the Eagles football team reached the state finals where they lost to New Bremen. The boys basketball team also had a tournament run, reaching the regional finals where they fell to Richmond Heights.

“I think it shows the character of the kids and the families they come from,” Ciambotti said. “Obviously, that helps with the other sports, especially with the young kids being thrown in the fire. Two or three of them have been through it with basketball. (The experience) helps out tremendously, but again, it goes to the character of the kids.”

One player has played a crucial role in all three of those runs. Cam Hollobaugh.

The senior has led all three teams on deep playoff runs in his senior campaign and is looking to prolong his time in an Eagles uniform for as long as possible before heading off to Walsh University as a two-sport athlete.

“It feels great,” Hollobaugh said. “It’s my senior year, especially and to be able to go far in every sport, not everybody can say they did that, and it’s making my senior year longer and I like that.”

As the only senior on the roster, Hollobaugh had the responsibility of guiding a team with very little experience before the season. With the 2020 season being wiped out, there were two classes that had no varsity experience. Hollobaugh was able to put his leadership skills to the test and guide the team in the right direction.

“I just kind of lead by example,” the Eagles’ pitcher and shortstop said. “Keep them composed, especially because our team’s young. I just keep their heads on, lead him in the right direction, let them know what to do and talk to them. Communication is key with the younger group like that.”

There’s only 11 players on Kennedy’s roster, four of which played before this season. Hollobaugh notes that they’re a team that relies on quality, not quantity.

“It just shows our strength is not in numbers,” Hollobaugh said. “It’s the quality of us as a team and it just shows how bad we want it. Especially because we’re playing teams with 20 guys on the roster and potentially some schools have more than that. … It just goes to show the nine guys we put on the field and what they can do.”

With only one senior on the roster, Ciambotti hopes trips to Akron can become a regular occurrence in the years to come.

“It’s awesome, it’s humbling,” he said. “I never thought we’d get this far this quick. When you have players like the Hollobaughs and Shrums and Hadleys, obviously things speed up. We’re just glad to be here.

“The important thing I want to emphasize is that we want to continue this. We want this to be a culture, we want this to be year in and year out. There’s no promises that we ever get back here, but we want to just continue this in the future.”

Kennedy’s contest against Fort Loramie was originally scheduled for today, but was pushed back to Saturday for weather concerns. First pitch is set for 1 p.m. at Canal Park in Akron.

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