Madison Mallards president Vern Stenman knows he's spouting a sports cliché, but he goes ahead anyway.
"I'll say it. I think we're playing our best baseball at the perfect time," he tells me Monday night, just a couple hours before his team would win its sixth straight, taking down division-leading La Crosse in 10 innings to move within a game and a half of first place.
It's hard to dispute. Since losing six of seven to start the season's second half, the Mallards have gone 11-4, including three straight against La Crosse. They're hitting .270 as a team, third best in the league, and their pitchers are giving up a stingy 1.37 walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP), fourth in the league.
More important, they're still playing energetic baseball late in the season. Stenman gives credit for that to first-year manager Greg Labbe, who has a decidedly simple approach to keeping his lineup fresh.
"Play 'em all," says Labbe. "All these kids made commitments to come here to play. I try to get them in four games a week. If a guy's hitting .150, who cares? He might get three hits tonight."
Labbe also uses the playoff race to keep his players focused as thoughts about the coming school year start to creep in. "We talk about the playoffs every day. If you don't talk about it, you aren't setting a goal for your guys. Being close and not winning the first half was a real letdown, and that carried over to the second half a little. But right now, it's on everybody's mind."