What seemed like a neat coincidence back on a Monday afternoon in late March turned out to be a big-time case of foreshadowing.
Seniors Ryan Noda and Simeon Lucas, Grant's Division I dynamic duo, both hit home runs for the Bulldogs in an 8-6 season-opening win over host Barrington.
"Simeon hit a home run in his very first at-bat of the season," Noda said proudly. "I went up right after him and I actually got hit by a pitch. But in my next at-bat, I hit one over the fence in dead center. That was pretty sweet."
Since then, Noda and Lucas, both of whom happen to hit left-handed, have been on a home-run sugar-high of sorts. They've hit a bunch more homers for the Bulldogs, and often in the same game, like against Johnsburg when Lucas and Noda hit back-to-back home runs.
As of Wednesday, Noda, Grant's cleanup hitter and centerfielder, had a personal-best 10 home runs on the season, and had hit 3 home runs in his last four games. He'll be playing at Cincinnati next season. Meanwhile, Lucas, the No. 3 hitter and the Bulldogs' catcher, was sitting at 7 home runs, which ties his career high from last year for a varsity season. He's been committed to Illinois State since early in his junior year.
Typically, most high school baseball teams around here are lucky to have one guy tally five or six homers by the end of a season. To have two players beyond that, with plenty of baseball left to be played, is not only special but a big reason Grant is closing in on 20 wins and hopeful for a replay of its 2012 trip downstate.
"Our coaches set it up to have me and Ryan hit back-to-back and it definitely helps our team," Lucas said. "If you walk me (to prevent a possible home run), then Ryan is coming up next and he could hit one out.
"That actually happened in our game against Burlington Central. I had hit a home run earlier in the game, so the next time I came up, they walked me. Then Ryan came up and hit a home run in the next at-bat. That's the great dynamic of it."
The other dynamic in play is the friendly competition between Noda and Lucas. They grew up as rivals in youth baseball, serving as the heavy hitter on their respective teams. They enjoyed trying to out-do each other then, and still do now.
But, for the most part, they've been racing neck-and neck since coming up to the varsity full-time as sophomores.
"Whenever Sim hits a homer, I'm like, 'Uh-oh, he's getting closer (to Noda's home run total)' Noda said with a laugh.
"If I hit one (a home run), I know he wants to get one, too," Lucas said of Noda. "We kind of feed off each other. You could say it's a friendly competition between us."
Yet, Lucas and Noda both insist that they don't specifically set out to hit home runs. They say that's the ruin of any power hitter.
No matter how badly they want to hit a home run to keep up with one another, they say they are determined to be patient and disciplined at the plate.
"When you try to hit home runs, you start to lose the basic fundamentals of hitting," said Lucas, who comes from a family of college athletes. Dad Larry played football at Navy and older brother Nathan played baseball at the University of Dubuque.
"The worst thing you can do is aim (and strain). I don't hold anything back when I'm up there, but mostly, I just try to square the ball up and hit it as hard as I can while staying in my fundamentals. And then maybe you get under it just right. I think I've matured a lot as a hitter in that way."
For Noda, he focuses about what the team needs in a particular situation. That helps him stay on task.
"Last year, I was our lead-off hitter, so all I was trying to do was get on base," said Noda, who hit a combined 3 home runs in his previous two seasons. "Now, as the No. 4 hitter, I'm trying to drive in runs, so I'm looking to hit the gap. When I try to hit it long, it usually doesn't work out very well. I just try to make contact and let my strength help with the distance.
"It's really all about what the team needs, filling the role I'm in and doing that with confidence."
Both Noda and Lucas believe they could eventually fill the role of power hitter for their college teams, too.
But first, they're curious to see what happens in the upcoming Major League Baseball draft. Both Noda and Lucas, who impressed college coaches with their hitting at various showcases, have been seen regularly by pro scouts this season as well.
"I think it's probably a dream for every kid who plays baseball to get drafted," Lucas said. "It just means you're one step closer to your dream of being in the MLB."
Says Noda: "When you're younger, you always want to go to the major leagues. But I've been watching a lot of college baseball lately, and that's a cool experience, too. I think it's going to be cool to get an opportunity to play in college because not every kid gets to do that either."
If this season as a whole is more foreshadowing, Noda and Lucas should do fine no matter where they end up.
• Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw