One of only two seniors on a Hebron team full of freshmen and sophomores, Jon Moneta feels like the oldest brother in a big family.
"It's a completely different ballgame," Moneta said. "Last year, 'KJ' (Kyle Joyce) and I just had to do our own things. We didn't have to say too much. Now 'Stein' (coach John Steinhilber) expects so much more from us. I knew I had to be more of a leader. Freshmen bring freshmen, it does get hard sometimes. At first, they thought I was the team (jerk), but they're starting to take criticism more productively."
Joyce and Moneta are a bridge of sorts, key members of a team that came within a pitch of reaching state last year and now veterans on a roster brimming with young talent.
"We knew they had the skill, just maybe not the maturity," Moneta said. "It's come along. The best way that's worked for us is to lead by example. The first practice, we talked about (semistate), how it was the best feeling in the world and the worst feeling in the world all within a matter of half an hour. To be that close, they definitely get the vibe that we want nothing less than to at least get back there."
Moneta started as a sophomore, but his dad took a new job and the family moved to Georgia that summer. When he left, Moneta gave his jersey to Joyce, not knowing if he would ever be back. He started for Salem High School, but it just didn't feel right.
"I was a wreck," Moneta said.
One night, he walked into the garage and his dad asked him what he wanted more than anything else. When Moneta told him his wish was to go back to Hebron, his dad responded, "Done!"
"I texted 'KJ' and told him I hope he didn't throw my jersey away," Moneta said. "He said, 'No, it's hanging there for you.'"
With baseball starting earlier in Georgia, Moneta got in nearly a whole season before being slowed by tendinitis. Once he returned to Hebron, he had to get in his 10 practices to be eligible, then earn his way back into the lineup.
"'Stein' was harder on me than he'd ever been," Moneta said. "Our relationship is a roller coaster. At first, I was mad, but I understood. Winning is what mattered. Going down (to Georgia), I learned so much. It forced me to realize I've got to work hard, not only baseball, but in life."
Moneta ultimately played a huge part in Hebron's tourney run, coming up with several clutch hits. A recent hot streak has his average up to .400. He is second on the team with 15 RBIs and has stabilized a young outfield with his play in left field. But it's not the numbers that matter most to Steinhilber.
"The one thing I'm most proud of is he's been a good influence on the young kids," Steinhilber said. "It's something he's never really been asked to do and the young kids have fed off that senior leadership. It's an ongoing process. There have been some hiccups, but he's stepped up to the plate and been a role model. He was kind of immature as a sophomore, but he's gotten better and better. I like where we're headed."
Often, all it takes now for Steinhilber to convey his message to Moneta or Joyce -- who also played basketball for him -- is a simple turn of the head.
"Having him my sophomore year, we bonded really good," Moneta said. "The connection we have, he can just look at me and I know exactly what he's talking about."