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Despite start, Grant County Braves still seeking respect

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By Paul Gable

While it would be easy for the Grant County High School baseball team to relax after opening the season 9-2 and earning victories over 32nd District opponents Simon Kenton (10-0) and Williamstown (10-0), along with a 9-3 win over ranked Conner, coach Van Duncan refuses to let it happen.

Instead of letting complacency take over, Duncan keeps his team focused on the task at hand by reminding them of their two setbacks. In addition, he asks his team to keep a chip on its shoulder, taking an "us against the world" attitude after receiving no votes in any polls despite beating several ranked teams this year.

"I am concerned with a letup. So far, we haven't had any arrogance to us. Should that become a problem, we have the games against Scott County and Harrison County that we can use as reminders," Duncan said.

The message has hit his players.

"People don't think we are for real. We have to earn respect and votes, and I think we've proven we are good enough with some of the wins we have," senior catcher Jeremy Martin said.

Colton Perry also said the Braves have been overlooked this year.

"We are not getting the credit we deserve and we are looked at as a small team. All that does is serve as motivation for us," Perry said.

For senior pitcher Jonathan Cain, he says he is disappointed with how his teammates go "unnoticed."

"We will just push harder each week to prove to the state that we are better than what they think," Cain said.

After inheriting a team that finished 12-13 last year, Duncan immediately began to change the culture surrounding the Braves' program, making the players believe they could contend not only for victories, but for championships.

"I had a good feeling coming into this season, and I have remained optimistic about our chances to have a good team. The kids and coaches we have on this team work hard, and it is great to see them rewarded with victories for their hard work," Duncan said.

However, it took some time for Grant County to turn things around, as they struggled at the plate. All that changed on April 12, when the bats woke up against Pendleton County in a 12-1 victory. Over their next three games (Simon Kenton, Williamstown, Bourbon County), the Braves outscored opponents 26-4 with two of the wins coming way of the 10-run mercy rule in five innings.

"I expected us to do this well with the hard work we have put in. Coaching is the biggest difference this season. Our coaches have put in a lot of time to make us successful and coach Duncan has turned us around and has us headed in the right direction," Pelfrey said.

"Our season is going good and it's the best we have been since I have been here. Each year, we gradually have gotten better. We are more experienced this year and we have better hitters and batters," Cain said.

In addition to their hitting, the Braves possess a pitching rotation that brings a smile to Duncan's face when he casts an eye toward the mound. The rotation includes Josh Cummins, Dillon Pelfrey, Cain and Dillon Adams.

While the Braves have been hitting and throwing well enough to earn victories, Duncan and his team know that championships have never been won at the midway portion of the season.

That is one reason why Grant County is taking a business-like approach for the next two weeks, which include several crucial games with seeding implications in the 32nd District.

On Tuesday, the Braves hosted 32nd District opponent Simon Kenton in a game that Duncan dubbed, "the biggest of our season."

"Simon Kenton will be ready. They are a senior-dominated team. I expect our guys to do their best. We don't want to win, we want to send a message," Duncan said.

Grant County hosts Williamstown at 5:30 p.m. on April 25.

In their first meeting this season, the Braves shelled Williamstown's pitching staff, got a home run by Scott Kelley and earned a 10-0 victory.

"The game is like any rivalry. We'll get their best effort and I expect a close game. We can't be overconfident, but we need to stay aggressive and play our game," Duncan said.

On April 26, the Braves travel to Henry County for an 8th Region game.

"It is a big week for us. Our goal is to win every district and region game," Duncan said.

Things do not get any easier for Grant County the following week, as they open up with a pair of games against 32nd District Walton-Verona, the only district team they have not yet played .