Wearing coach's old cleats, De Soto's Graff finds home run power

Jun. 12--Is it all in the shoes?

Randy Graff had the answer to that question after facing just one pitch while wearing them. That's because the De Soto High School senior hit that pitch over the fence.

He hadn't done that before, but he also hadn't worn De Soto coach Kelly Olson's old cleats, either. Graff's cleats, you see, were pretty ragged.

"They were worn down," Graff said. "It was like I was running around in tennis shoes out there."

That gave Olson an idea, and Graff was soon the beneficiary if his coach's plan.

Olson, who played high school baseball at Viroqua, gave Graff a pair of his old cleats. Graff's power surge began immediately. The first pitch he saw in them resulted in a grand slam that led to a 13-1 win over La Farge in a WIAA Division 4 regional semifinal game.

Graff has hit two more home runs since that at-bat with one of them being another grand slam. He hit another solo homer against La Farge and delivered the second grand slam in a sectional semifinal win over New Lisbon.

Not bad for a No. 9 hitter who spent more than half the season being batted for, huh?

"He doesn't have plans to play baseball in college or anything, so there's no reason for him to buy new ones," Olson said of the cleats. "I had an old pair, and I wasn't using them, so I figured I could at least put them to good use."

Graff, an outfielder, has 17 RBI, but he had just seven during the regular season. His three home runs and 10 RBI in the postseason has the Pirates (19-4) headed to the Division 4 state tournament, which starts for Divisions 2, 3 and 4 on Wednesday.

He still has just 45 at-bats -- he's batting .378 -- this season, but he's provided De Soto with another solid bat at the bottom of the order.

"He was getting DHd for, but we decided to just go with him," Olson said of Graff. "That's when he really started hitting the ball."

Graff said that batting at the bottom of the order is where he likes to bat. He also thinks it can be an advantage.

"A lot of teams will see the No. 9 hitter and think he's an easy out," said Graff, who will likely play center field in the state semifinal against Abbotsford. "I wasn't getting great pitches or of swinging at the right pitches before when I was batting. I've definitely learned some discipline since then."

If that was ever the case with Graff, it isn't any more. The Pirates have used his hot bat to qualify for the state tournament for the first time since 2004.

"He's always been a good fielder and a good baserunner," Olson said. "He's improved quite a bit at the plate, and he's become very dependable."


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Todd Sommerfeldt, La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

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