The Omaha Roncalli baseball team entered this season with a collective chip on its shoulder.
The Crimson Pride were coming off a disappointing 2011 campaign, which included the varsity and American Legion seasons. Roncalli missed the state tournament last spring for the second straight year and failed to qualify for the Legion state tournament last summer for the first time in 10 years.
"I think that really made our guys ornery," Crimson Pride coach Tom Kupfer said. "That was big motivation for this spring because I could definitely feel a sense of urgency."
Roncalli — which co-ops with Omaha Brownell-Talbot and Omaha Concordia — was slow out of the gate, losing its first three games. But a doubleheader sweep of Class A power Lincoln Southwest helped turn things around for the Crimson Pride, who are now 12-8 and ranked fifth in Class B.
"I like the way our season is going," Kupfer said. "I think the great weather this spring has played a big role because it's helped us get more games in and allowed us to play with more consistency."
In addition to the wins against the Class A No. 5 Silver Hawks, Roncalli also has defeated Class B No. 1 Omaha Skutt. The Crimson Pride trailed by seven runs in that game but rallied to win 10-9 in extra innings.
"With wins over Lincoln Southwest and Skutt, I think the guys realized it could be a special season for us," Kupfer said. "Our team has lofty goals, and I like the way we're playing right now."
A strong pitching staff has been a major factor for the Crimson Pride. Kupfer points to the strong arms of seniors Greg Houser, Tyler Alitz and Jacob Aken for a good portion of the team's success.
"They've really stepped it up for us," he said. "When any one of them takes the mound, our guys just know we're going to get a solid performance."
Roncalli also has been hitting well, as evidenced by its performance in four victories last week. The Crimson Pride outscored their opponents 36-3 during that stretch as four players — Alitz, Aken, Adam Fleming and Jake Terakosky — have boosted their batting averages above .350.
Kupfer's squad has five games remaining before the start of districts May 4. The coach said he is confident his team will continue to play hard with the hope of landing that state tournament berth that slipped away the past two springs.
"We're coming off a good week," Kupfer said. "We want to finish strong and make sure that we have a shot at a state title this season."
Ratings update: Trying to sort out the top four teams in Class A wasn't easy, but the bottom line is that there is a new team at the top of the heap.
Millard North (19-3) takes over No. 1 by virtue of its road win last Tuesday against Millard West. The Mustangs have a tough week ahead with games against No. 4 Omaha Creighton Prep, No. 7 Papillion-La Vista and the competitive Don Kraft (Millard South) Invitational.
Previous No. 1 Millard West slips to No. 2 after losses against Millard North and Metro Conference tournament champion Omaha Westside. The Wildcats stay ahead of the third-ranked Warriors after beating Westside in the final of the Papillion-La Vista Invitational on Saturday.
Prep, which lost to Westside in a semifinal of the Metro tourney, is ranked fourth. The Junior Jays' schedule toughens down the stretch with games this week against Lincoln Southwest, Westside, Millard North and the Don Kraft.
Rounding out the top five is Southwest, which has won seven of its past eight. The Silver Hawks beat Omaha North, Millard South and host Lincoln East to capture the Spartan Invitational.
In Class B, Skutt moves back to the top after going 3-1 last week. The SkyHawks are coming off a 5-3 win against River Cities Conference foe South Sioux City.
Top games this week:
Class A — Monday: Lincoln Southwest at Omaha Creighton Prep, 5; Lincoln East vs. Lincoln Northeast (Den Hartog), 5. Tuesday: Omaha Westside vs. Omaha Creighton Prep (Werner Park), 4:30; Millard North at Papillion-La Vista (Fricke), 5. Wednesday: Omaha Creighton Prep at Millard North, 4:30. Thursday-Saturday: Don Kraft Invitational (at Millard South); Bellevue West Invitational. Saturday: Lincoln Southwest at Omaha Burke, 5.
Class B — Monday: Wahoo at Elkhorn South, 7. Tuesday: Omaha Gross at Elkhorn (Legion Field), 5; Omaha Roncalli at Lincoln Pius X, 5. Wednesday: Papillion-La Vista at Omaha Gross, 5. Thursday: Lincoln Pius X at Omaha Gross, 5. Friday: Norris at Waverly, 5. Friday-Saturday: Curt Shockey/Ralston tournament (Orval Smith). Saturday: Omaha Roncalli at Omaha Gross, noon.
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