NAPPANEE — "This team is really close and (the players) really treat each other like family. They hold each other accountable and each of them know they have each other's back."
Those are the words of NorthWood High School head baseball coach Zach Benko in describing his team.
It is a baseball band of brothers.
And not just figuratively.
NorthWood's varsity has not one ...
Not two ...
Not three ...
The Panthers have four sets of brothers — Blake and Tanner Cleveland, Tyler and Drew Minnich, Dominic and Vincent Miranda, and Trent and Chad Sellers.
The brothers have blended with other talented athletes to make a formidable squad. As of Saturday, May 17, the Panthers were 14-5 overall and 8-4 in the Northern Lakes Conference.
The Clevelands are the sons of Todd and Missy Cleveland. Todd is a NorthWood assistant. Blake is a senior catcher and Tanner is a sophomore pitcher-first baseman.
The Minnichs are the sons of Darren and Lisa Minnich. Tyler is a senior left fielder, first baseman and pitcher and Drew is a freshman pitcher-third baseman.
The Mirandas are the sons of Martin and Angie Miranda. Dominic is a junior right fielder and freshman Vincent is a freshman pitcher-infielder. Angie is NorthWood's athletic secretary.
The Sellers are the sons of Norm and Kim Sellers. Trent is a junior left fielder and Chad is a sophomore second baseman-pitcher. Norm is NorthWood's athletic director and former head baseball coach at Bremen High School.
NorthWood went 17-8 overall and 10-4 in the NLC and while earning a sectional title in 2013 and the Panthers have nine returning letterwinners from a team that lost in the regional to eventual Class 3A state champion Norwell.
It became a full set of four brothers a few weeks into the season when Vincent Miranda and Drew Minnich were brought up from the junior varsity.
"Bringing up Drew and Vince wasn't that much of a big deal because they blend in so well," says Tyler Minnich. "It's a little different having your brother in the dugout. But it's definitely a good thing because you have a better opportunity to encourage him more."
The same goes for the Mirandas, who had not played together much before this spring.
"I like playing with him," Dominic says of Vincent. "He's a great addition to the team. He's done really well for us.
"Last year when I was on varsity, I would have liked to have an older brother to show me the ropes."
Younger brother likes having that example.
"There's someone I can look up to," says Vincent. "We can go home and talk about the game."
Having a sibling on the squad is a dynamic that is definitely embraced by the Sellers boys.
"We know each other and we have chemistry," says Trent Sellers of Chad. "We're not afraid to get on each other."
Years of playing and living together have tuned brother into brother.
"I feel like understand his body language and his demeanor," says Chad. "I can tell if he's down or he's happy. After the games, we talk a lot about on how we can get better."
Like many other NorthWood players, the Clevelands played on the Nappanee All-Stars and in travel ball together, developing a bond and confidence in one another.
"We have trust with him being a pitcher and me being a catcher," says Blake. "If I call a pitch, I can trust he's going to put it in the best place the team needs it to be. He expects the same out of me."
Tanner appreciates his brother's stature on the squad.
"He's a big influence on the team and on me," Tanner says. "He has some big shoes. It's great thing, him being a catcher and leading the team and everything. Getting to throw to him is a great opportunity."
The Clevelands enjoy the chance to provide each other with feedback.
"Most of the time we expect to critique each other's play," Tanner says.
But what happens when a 15-year-old is sizing up the 18-year-old?
"I can definitely tell if there is something good or something bad with his swing," says Drew Minnich of Tyler. "I do (offer advice) a little bit. I don't think he likes it just because I'm the younger brother."
Benko said togetherness and focus have helped fuel the Panthers' diamond success.
"I think of all the boys on the team as being brothers to each other," says Benko. "There is a high degree of trust. They are cued into what's going on.
"When it's baseball time, it's baseball time. That's how we operate. There are things we want to accomplish and we haven't done any of it yet."