The Meridian Star
Despite his team’s 3-16 (1-5) record, Northeast Lauderdale senior Blake Key will be the first person to tell you the Trojans aren’t done yet.
Key, who leads Northeast with a .487 batting average, is determined to help his team get back on track and maybe even sneak into the playoff picture.
“As a team we are struggling a little bit, but things are starting to come together,” Key said. “Our goal this year is still to make the playoffs. We got to take it one game at a time.”
“If we win this one Friday, it’d be a big momentum swing. We could win out the rest of our games and still make a playoff spot.”
The Trojan's leadoff hitter, Key has produced eye-popping numbers this season. On top of his stellar batting average, Key has also compiled a .556 on base percentage, seven doubles, two triples and has scored 14 runs in the Trojans 19 games this season. However, Northeast head coach Matt Minchew said the thing that really sets Key apart is what he brings to the team off the field.
“He’s brought more to the table this year from a leadership role,” Minchew said. “We have leaned on him to rally the guys up and get them going.”
Key earned the leadership role far before the first game of the season, as he spent countless hours perfecting his swing in the fall. Minchew remembers coming back to the field after practice several times during the off-season only to find Key still at work in the batting cages.
The senior embraces the leadership role and said he fuels himself on setting a positive example for younger teammates.
“I just tell the team to keep their head up,” Key said. “You got to ignore all the stuff outside of baseball and keep focusing.”
That same upbeat attitude has helped Key overcome adversity of his own this season. Key dislocated his pinky sliding back into first base during the March 8 game against West Lauderdale.
Shortly after, trainers were able to pop the finger back into place. However, the swelling in his hand continued in the following weeks. Key continued to play through the pain. He even remained in the lineup when Northeast played six games in five days during Spring Break.
“It’s just now starting to get better after a few weeks,” Key said. “I could feel it in my swing, but it is getting better now.”
Minchew said his center fielder has always been able to play under pressure. Key’s flare for the dramatic began early in his high school career, as he went 4-4 at the plate with two doubles during his first varsity game his freshman year.
“He really stood out to us the summer heading into his sophomore year,” Minchew said. “He started getting a lot more at bats, and everybody started realizing how good his hand-eye coordination was.
“He can swing it, bottom line, I wish I had nine of him. He has had a great four years here.”
Key and his teammates will get the opportunity to start the turnaround tonight, as Northeast Lauderdale travels to Newton County 13-4 (7-0) in a must-win game for the Trojans.
Northeast Lauderdale will send ace Ben Smith to the mound against Newton County top pitcher Will Brand, who leads the Cougars with six wins. Minchew said Smith has given the team a chance to win every time he has taken the mound and expects the junior righty to shine on the big stage tonight.
With only three teams advancing from Region 5 4A, the Trojans will need to win the rest of their games and receive some help from other teams in order to earn a spot in the playoffs.
While the task might seem impossible to some, Key said his teammates aren’t feeling any added pressure, as they look to continue focusing on the task at hand and prove many doubters in the community wrong.
“We got nothing to lose right now,” Key said. “We just need to take it one game at a time and enjoy it.”