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Andrew Hagerman has taken Okaw Valley and turned it into a serious and consistent Class 1A contender.

After a state run, especially in Class 1A, there's likely two ways a season can go.

Either the team follows it up with another deep run -- this usually requires plenty of returners -- or a younger team learns the hard way how tough it is to deal with added pressure.

Okaw Valley powered through the former, even after losing its top two pitchers and one of its best hitters.

The Timberwolves, after a fourth-place finish in 1A last year, pieced together a 25-4 season and nearly collected back-to-back sectional titles.

The season wasn't unimaginable. Okaw Valley's 3 and 4 in the rotation, Drew Fruchtl and Dylan Park, could tango with any tandem in the area. But with a young lineup around them and the Bethany-based school holding just 172 students, it took until May before coach Andrew Hagerman started really believing again.

"We had a great record and we were beating pretty much everybody on our schedule," he said. "We thought, maybe the competition is down, maybe the conference is down a bit.

"And then we went to Paris and played on a Saturday and all we had available was the 3-4-5 on our staff. And Paris is 3A and a 22-win team, and we beat them 6-3.

"After that game, I told (the team) look out. I didn't believe until now, but I think we're going to be able to do it all over again. I believe in you guys and it was a statement win."

Hagerman, the H&R area baseball coach of the year, has brought the Okaw Valley program to standard of excellence. The Timberwolves have won 79 percent of its games in the last three years (70-19) and he sees a culture that's taken hold.

Not that he'd tell you he has anything to do with it. Hagerman credits his assistant Bryan Fruchtl and his players for installing the blueprint.

"As the season went on, I saw the hunger that was in the kids and it kinda bled into the coaching staff, where we started to believe," Hagerman said. "In a way, you got to credit the kids 100 percent because they didn't want to take a step back."

He helped craft the tandem of Fruchtl and Park so they'd come in and keep the same expectation level set by Peyton Hagerman and Devon Still. And with much of the defense returning for Okaw Valley, he concentrated on the Timberwolves hitting.

Okaw Valley averaged 11.52 runs per game as Hagerman made the sure the offense ran through the entire lineup and was reliable at any point in the season.

"You look at the sectional semifinals, Alex Martin had a huge hit batting in the eight hole to get us on the board and we get Connor Cloyd, who had a squeeze bunt out of the nine-hole, and it deflated the opponent," Hagerman said.

"That's a sectional game and you're talking about the nine-hole and that's on two-strike count, which is a little unorthodox, but I knew he was able to do it because I'd seen it in the cage a thousand times."

Okaw Valley's season was cut short in an unorthodox way. After its sectional semifinal game was rained out two straight days, the Timberwolves were scheduled for a doubleheader on a Saturday. Okaw Valley won the first game but lost the second, the sectional championship, 4-0 to Salt Fork.

Hagerman will have to turn his top two starters over again next year, but he's hopeful the standard's been set and Okaw Valley continues the chase to Peoria.

"You don't expect it, but you sure hope so," Hagerman said about creating a lasting program. "And you hope the kids in the community that are six years old or eight years old see that and say, 'Hey, I want to be a part of that.'"

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adow@herald-review.com|(217) 421-6978

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