It was third or fourth grade. Bailly Elementary School classmates Ryan Klikus and Zac Ryan were working on their multiplication skills. To make studying a little more interesting, they put 60 seconds on a timer to see who would get done first.
"We always raced," Klikus said. "His mom was like, 'Are you serious? It's times tables.' I don't care. I love to compete. I want to win at everything I do, no matter what it is. I've been that way my whole life."
While Klikus' intensity has prompted a few outbursts over the years, the fire has largely served the Morgan Township senior well.
"He's a very gifted athlete," Cherokees coach Jason Dorshorst said. "At the same time, there's the simple fact that he's just going to beat you and he doesn't care how he does it. It's amazing. He's one of the best competitors I've ever seen in my life."
That was a big reason Dorshorst rolled the dice and started Klikus over ace Joe Dougherty against Washington Township in the sectional opener. The Senators roughed up Dougherty in an 11-1 win the week before.
"(Klikus) doesn't have lights out stuff. (Washington's Justin) Landgrebe's a lot stronger pitcher," Dorshorst said. "But just watching his will to win, it was unbelievable."
The plan was to pitch Klikus three innings. Then he went four and five before encountering some trouble in the sixth. Dorshorst went to the mound and told Klikus it was his game to win or lose.
"I wanted it," he said.
Klikus got out of the jam and Morgan won 1-0.
"The first thing I compared it to was the Bowman (basketball) game," Klikus said, referring to the Cherokees' huge 2011 sectional upset. "Nobody except our own team and coaching staff expected us to win. (The 11-1 loss) was the first time we'd gotten 'dimed' since early my sophomore year. I took it personally. They're too cocky for me. I didn't appreciate it very much."
That wasn't Klikus' only motivation. His mom, Diane, returned home the day before following an operation and was unable to attend the game.
"I was thinking of her a lot," he said. "I wanted her to see me play again. I was thinking about it throughout the game. It can't end like this, especially against (Washington). All (my competitiveness) comes from her. She made me a fighter. The fact that not only baseball, but my career, could be done, I still can't fathom the idea. I'm definitely not ready."
Klikus has four pitching wins. He is the catalyst to the offense, hitting .365 with 25 stolen bases and 33 runs. When he's not pitching, Klikus anchors the infield at shortstop, keeping his teammates on their toes with his energetic chatter.
"It's always something I've done," he said. "It helps me focus on the game. We've got so many freshmen, it helps keep them in the game, knowing what they're supposed to be doing."
It'll be more of the same today at Caston for the regional.
"He's a rock, at shortstop or on the mound," Dorshorst said. "He keeps everybody going. He's a vocal leader, but he's also a calming influence. The kids definitely look up to him."