PEYTON — If Yogi Berra watched baseball in Peyton, he would agree that the Panthers are strong when it comes to the 90 percent of the game that's mental.
The other half of it that's physical?
They're not too bad on that end of it either. At 12-1 on the year, Peyton climbed into the top spot of the Class 2A baseball rankings earlier this week. The Panthers are also the top team in the 2A RPI. Overall, they've shown to be a balanced baseball team that is poised to make a postseason run.
"As a team, we haven't talked about what it means to be ranked No. 1 coach," coach Kelly Nickell said. "As for RPI, we've played some tough teams the last couple of weeks and that's what is always going to help."
They don't win with power. They don't win with flashy defense. They win simply by putting the ball in play in the right spots and just making the plays with their wolves when they need to.
Oh, and it helps that they understand that baseball is a thinking man's game. And the Panthers are always thinking. A 4-3 win over Highland on Wednesday doesn't happen without outthinking the Huskies.
Pitcher Rodney Gregg got into their heads with a quick pickoff throw to first. The second that first baseman Nick Bachmeier fired the ball back to Gregg, he stepped on the rubber and delivered a quick pitch to an unprepared Husky. But the hitter never left the batter's box and Gregg knew that with baseball, play is always live unless time is called.
"I learned that with my summer ball team," Gregg said. "It keeps the batter off balance and let's him know that I'm still thinking about him, but still trying to throw off his timing."
In the top of the third inning, the Panthers led 1-0, but Highland was threatening. Jacob Smith walked to start the inning and advanced to third on a stolen base followed by a throwing error from catcher A.J. Strobel.
But Strobel would have the last laugh. After Gregg struck out the next two hitters, Strobel caught Smith napping on third base and trapped him in a rundown.
The Panthers got the out and scored two runs in the bottom of the third to increase the lead to 3-0.
"That's all we do," Gregg said. "We work on the mental side of the game. We always work on those situations, if they're sleeping or on those bunting (for base hit) plays, those guys work really hard at it."
And it's paying off. Regardless of the ranking that comes before their name, the Panthers know that they can make a deep playoff run. And they know that when they reach those games in mid- to late-May, every team is going to be talented.
The mental game is what could separate them from the rest of the field.
"That's what we talk about constantly are the little things," senior Josh Gonzales said. "The little things can win you or lose you a baseball game."
For now, they're doing the little things that are winning them games. When Gregg is on the mound, he very much takes the lead when it comes to thinking out situations and helping his team come away with a win.
"When it comes to Rod, I don't know if you'll find a smarter baseball guy," Nickell said. "It's actually fun to talk baseball with him."
Nickell adds that Gregg is a throwback. He's not a kid who just plays the game, he knows the game. And that has made the entire Peyton baseball better.
Not just in the half of the game that is physical, but the other 90 percent of it that's mental.