LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Snow was still on the ground when Aquinas senior shortstop Sean Dee had a feeling the 2017 baseball season could be memorable. "I knew from open gyms in the winter that this team could be special."
So after a 5-5 start to the season, the Aquinas baseball team did not waver. Head coach Scott Bagniefski does't think in wins and losses.
"We really discard the wins and losses and just go with, are we improving as individuals and are we improving as a team?"
"We definitely have our faults. We identified them early in the season," said senior catcher CJ Nolte. "We solved them and that has really helped us develop into the team what we are today and help us get to this point."
Players say this team has a strong family bond, another item that helped them survive the early season rollercoaster ride.
"I don't think everybody can say that. I think that is something this is special with this team and that's what got us this far," said senior second baseman Ryan Ellingson.
If this team was a a family, that would have made James Coonan, or as everybody calls "Coach Cooney", the patriarch of this Blugolds baseball program.
"He coached me in high school when I was at Aquinas and head coached Legion when I played Legion here in 1987. And he came into the program as soon as I got to Aquinas," said Bagniefski. "There isn't a play in baseball, a fly ball or a pitching count or situation where that guy hadn't lived through and been successful."
Coach Cooney passed away on May 27, 207, three days prior to their first game of the postseason.
"It's new territory for sure. We didn't know how to handle it, how the players would handle it, what to do as coaches. That's part of baseball and its part of life. But it's sad and tragic and we miss the guy whole-heartedly. But I think Coach Cooney would want us to move on and get to practice and pitchers get your butts down to the bullpen and get your work in."
"We had a special connection," said senior pitcher John Savoldelli. "We'd be in a game and I'd do something bad and the first thing I'd do is look over at him and he'd be in the dugout just shouting at me 'keep the ball down' or 'get out in front' or something like that."
With Coach Cooney on their minds, Aquinas has outscored their playoff opponents 38-to-5 on their way to the WIAA Division 3 state semifinal this Wednesday.
"Being able to play for him each day that we come on the field. It's something special and everything is for him at this point," said Nolte.
"We're doing it for him. A tribute to him. That is what this season is all about," added Ellingson.
"He'd be proud of these guys," said Bagniefski.