Expectations were high for the Davenport baseball when all of their seniors returned after last years shortened season.
But more than halfway through, DU was not meeting them at 16-14 and almost out of the GLIAC race.
"I also feel like we felt some pressure early, didn't play very loose and kind of felt like we may be out of the picture for the conference," 10th year Davenport head coach Kevin Tidey said. "At one point we just decided to have some fun, play lose and guys really started to play at higher level."
Davenport won 10 straight games to take the regular season conference title, then four more last weekend to win GLIAC tournament and punch its ticket to the regionals.
"It has been super fun," sophomore outfielder Gaetano Vallone said. "The energy has been high, we've been on a high."
Vallone has been a big part of the Panthers late season success.
The West Catholic alum was inserted into the lineup three weeks ago and the team is 12-0 since and Vallone has hit three home runs in that stretch which included a grand slam late in a 2-2 game with Ashland in the conference tournament.
"Definitely a switch up from what I have been used to," Vallone, who was named most valuable player of the GLIAC tournament, said. "My body has been sore, tired, but it's a grind, knew that and it has just been awesome, glad to be a part of it."
"We decided as a staff to basically tell him we're going to go with you for the next seven or eight games and take the pressure off you and let you have some fun and play and kind of keep that loose feeling going," Tidey added. "So I think that helped him a lot."
It would have been easy for Vallone to get frustrated with his lack of playing time, but he stayed ready and now has gotten an opportunity at the most important time of the year.
"Just being there and having fun with everyone, that's what really keeps you coming back to the yard," Vallone said. "Wanting everyone to do good, it's a team game so just cheering my teammates on kept me up, kept my spirits up, seeing everyone succeed is fun."
DU hopes to keep it rolling in this week's double elimination regional where the winner will advance to the Division II World Series in Cary, North Carolina.
"Our talks the whole time, even when we thought we might be out of the conference race, were playing our best baseball in May," Tidey said. "And I think we are doing that."
The third-seeded Panthers get it started Thursday night against fourth-seed and host Lindenwood.