Luke Fennelly remembers sitting in the stands at Principal Park in Des Moines as a 9-year-old watching the Davenport Assumption baseball team at the state tournament.
Fennelly was particularly drawn to the Knights' starting second baseman in that 2008 Class 2A championship game — his older brother, Trevor.
"Once I saw him out there, I always wanted to get there at one point with my team," Fennelly said. "I thought that was really special to see.
"I've always wanted to follow in my brother's footsteps."
After near-misses the past two years in the district final to Central DeWitt, Fennelly gets his opportunity to perform on the state stage with his teammates at 11 a.m. today against Bondurant-Farrar.
While Assumption's three Division I pitchers garner much of the attention, Fennelly has been the offensive catalyst for the Knights.
The senior shortstop leads the team in average (.455), hits (60), triples (3), RBIs (38) and on-base percentage (.532).
In three postseason games, Fennelly is 7-for-10 with three extra-base hits, including his first high school home run, and four RBIs.
"When we need a big hit or when we need to get something going, he's the guy for us," senior Trenton Wallace said. "When he's at the plate with guys on base, our team has a comfortable feeling he's going to do something positive for us."
Fennelly, a three-year starter, always has been a defensive asset. It is at the plate where he's made a quantum leap.
He hit a meager .230 and batted primarily ninth in the order for Assumption as a sophomore. The average jumped to .323 last summer.
Entrenched in the No. 2 spot this year, the all-conference selection has been a model of consistency. He's hit safely in 36 of Assumption's 43 games and reached base at least once in 39 contests.
"Every year he's made a stride," Assumption coach Billy Argo said. "He's a little stronger, a little faster and a little wiser with three years under his belt."
Teammates believe it was the time Fennelly devoted during the offseason that has led to his offensive outburst.
Even with basketball and tennis occupying his time during the winter and spring months, Fennelly made time for baseball.
"He worked very hard to get where he's at now," catcher Tavien Gillette said. "You can see it now with the good at-bats he's been putting together, staying off pitches he can't hit and hitting pitches that he can.
"That average comes from how much time he's put into this."
Fennelly attributes it to experience. He's learned from the mistakes he made the past two seasons.
"Hitting is more of a mental game than physical," he said. "It takes a lot of confidence. In the past, I didn't have that confidence to hit. Now, I want to hit, and I know I'm playing a bigger role for the team."
Besides producing base hits, Fennelly is the team leader with 10 sacrifices — an important skill for the No. 2 hitter in Assumption's philosophy of moving runners and manufacturing runs.
Leadoff hitter Ben Beutel is batting .375 and leads the team with 30 walks. That has given Fennelly plenty of opportunities to hit with somebody on base.
"The pressure is really on Ben," Fennelly said. "I'm a situational guy. I like that role because it puts me a in a good situation to help the team."
Baseball has been a passion for Fennelly since he started in T-ball and his father coached him in Little League.
Middle infield always has been his spot on the field. He's made only eight errors in 141 chances this season, a fielding percentage of .941 that ranks among the best within MAC shortstops.
"It is an active position," said Fennelly, who will continue his baseball career at Loras College in the fall. "I love taking ground balls."
Fennelly admits there will be nerves when he steps into the box or takes that first grounder Tuesday against Bondurant-Farrar.
Like his brother, Fennelly wants to be part of Assumption championship lore. The 3A second-ranked Knights are seeking to become the first Iowa school to claim 10 summer baseball titles this week.
"It is pretty special to get to experience this as a senior," Fennelly said. "We've got a special team, and I'm glad I got to do this at least once in my career.
"Assumption baseball always has had a special tradition. To be the 10th (championship team) would be one for the books."