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Boone Grove baseball

Boone Grove is keeping preparations for the Class 2A state championship game as normal as possible.

The theme for the Boone Grove baseball team has been the same all season. It's been reinforced to the point that the players know it by heart.

"Every game is a championship game," Wolves coach Pat Antone said. "The biggest game is the one we're playing right now, this moment."

While the next one, Saturday's Class 2A state championship at Victory Field in Indianapolis, is undoubtedly the biggest, Antone hopes the mantra will help keep the Wolves focused and feeling no more pressure than they've felt going into any other game.

"We're trying to keep it as normal as possible," he said.

Sounds good, but it's easier said than done.

"I'm extremely excited," freshman catcher Ryan Pierce said. "It's been pretty hard to sleep the last couple nights. I'm just up thinking about it. It's gonna be definitely harder to sleep Friday. It's crazy. I'll try to handle it just like any other game, do my routines, get my deep breaths going, try not to panic too much."

Most of the Wolves have experience in travel baseball, but that doesn't compare to a state championship. For some of them, last Saturday's semistate was their biggest game to date.

"Nothing compared to this, whole different level," sophomore second baseman Elijah Covington said. "I'm excited, man. I have to turn all the nervousness into excitement, use it to fuel my game, nervous energy turning into positive energy."

Star pitcher Ty Bothwell has pitched at Four Winds Field, home of the Class A South Bend Cubs, but that's the largest stage any of the Wolves have been on. A few have been to Victory Field, home of the Class AAA Indianapolis Indians, as spectators. Senior Tanner Barron attended Andrean's 3A championship game there as an eighth-grader  in 2014.

"I don't know how I'll handle it yet," Bothwell said. "It's hard to say because anything can happen. It's just how the sport is. You gotta go out there and treat it like another game, having fun and doing what you can to try and win."

Antone's first step in maintaining a sense of normalcy was continuing with the same practice routine that was used during the regular season, tweaking it slightly in the postseason to accommodate the change in game schedule.

"It's been a regular week since the start of sectionals," he said.

By and large, the Wolves are a free-spirited bunch, following the lead of their ace, the easy-going Bothwell.

"That's how they are," Antone said. "We're keeping it loose. We're making it fun. Not everybody has the opportunity to prepare for a state championship game. We want to make sure they enjoy it, but also stay focused on what got us here. When it's time to work, we have to work. They've done a good job of finding a balance."

In an effort to combat any jitters, Boone will make the trip down I-65 on Friday, check in at the hotel and attend the 4A final that evening.

"I want them to see it, get a feel for it, get comfortable with watching a game," he said. "That way, once they're on the field on game day, they should be fine."

It will be the first time Antone's been inside the actual stadium. He has been to Victory Field itself, but has never set foot inside the gates, having missed out on it as a player and coach at Andrean.

Two years ago, his fiancee Alyssa Annee and her family made plans to attend the 4A state championship game to see Indianapolis Roncalli, where Annee attended high school, but Antone gracefully declined. Annee wasn't happy about it at the time, though the couple obviously put it behind them as they will be married in August.

"I've turned down three, four games," Antone said. "I wanted my first time to be the first time I coached in a state championship game."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at jim.peters@nwi.com

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Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.