One week ago, the Western Nevada baseball team was so worried about winning their remaining eight games that even head coach D.J. Whittemore said he was looking ahead in the schedule, not something you normally hear from a coach.
Since then, though, it seems everyone has had the chance to check their emotional baggage at the door.
"That's why these guys are where they are because they play every game and every weekend like it's a big game and it's not going to be a problem this weekend," Whittemore said. "The only problem we're going to have is a really good Salt Lake team that's got some very good pitching and some good bats. So it's going to be a good test."
During Thursday's practice, which also served as team photo day, the mood was anything but tense. Players horsed around, jumped for the fun of it and just behaved like college athletes, rather than worrying that they have to win out their remaining games to host the Region XVIII tournament beginning May 6.
The Wildcats (26-6 SWAC, 32-12) hold a one-game lead over Southern Nevada (25-7, 33-15) in the Scenic West Athletic Conference and need to sweep Salt Lake (14-18, 21-23), who they play a four-game series with starting at noon today, and next week's opponent, lowly Colorado Northwestern (3-29, 7-39).
They held a four-game lead two weeks ago before going into the second doubleheader of their series with Southern Nevada, but were swept April 11 by the Coyotes. They followed that up by winning 3-of-4 against Southern Idaho last week, while CSN swept Colorado Northwestern, gaining a game in the standings.
"Last weekend was pretty disappointing, but that's in the past, we can only look forward to this weekend," said WNC outfielder Lance Ray. "We've got big games, we've got a one-game lead in the conference and we just need to win all we can."
The one-game-at-a-time mantra is something that you hear in every pre-game and post-game interview with an athlete, but usually it's just something to tell the media while in reality players check how other teams are doing and has dates with certain opponents on their calendars. The Wildcats have even been guilty this season of checking CSN's results immediately after games, but that is something Ray insists won't be happening for the remainder of the season.
"It's tough because one-game up is always in the back of your head, but that's what good teams do," he said. "They just focus for one game, one pitch and that's what we're going to do this weekend and we're going to win.
"Last year it came down to pretty much the same thing, if we swept we were going to be champions. We played hard, we got a few bad bounces, but you make your own breaks in baseball and that's what we're going to do this weekend."