Perham sophomore Noah Rooney met junior Maddux Kovash when he was 2 years old and Kovash was 3. They were at daycare together. That was where they had their first game of catch. To this day, the two Perham baseball players play catch before every game.
"He's probably one of the nicest guys I know," Kovash said. "He's funny and he's determined. He works harder than anyone I know."
The only true similarity the two share is their friendship. Kovash is 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, while Rooney is 5-9 and around 150 pounds. Rooney is far more serious, while Kovash is more laid back. On the mound, Kovash will confuse hitters with a change-up, curveball and knuckleball, all of which he can throw for strikes, while Rooney overpowers hitters with his fastball.
"For sports, we pull out the best of both of us," Rooney said.
The two lead a Perham pitching staff that has no pitcher with an earned-run average above 2.82 into the Minnesota Class 2A state baseball tournament. The No. 4 seed Yellowjackets will open the tournament against No. 5 seed Paynesville at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at Dick Putz Field in St. Cloud, Minn.
Perham coach James Mulcahy has known the two for six years. His son has been their catcher since Little League. Even then he saw something special.
"You knew they were good," Mulcahy said. "Rooney was throwing no-hitters and Kovash was throwing strikes at 13 years old. At that age, throwing strikes is half the battle."
The strikes continued, as Rooney is 6-1 with a 1.53 earned-run average on the mound this season. He's struck out 83 in 41 innings, while also hitting .364, driving in 21 runs and hitting a homer at the plate. Doesn't get any easier for a hitter with Kovash on the mound, as he is 5-0 with a 1.40 ERA and has struck out 32 in 35 innings. At the plate, Kovash is hitting .438 with 24 RBIs and two homers.
"They just work well together, even though they're a grade apart," Mulcahy said. "There's been success by Rooney and Kovash, Dawson Stevens has been steady, Sam Still emerged, Michael Benke is a guy that can come out of the bullpen. They've all built from each other. The leadership of Kovash and Rooney has really helped the pitching staff develop."
The Yellowjackets lost in the sections semifinals last season. Kovash and Rooney used the loss as motivation. The two were in the weight room at 7 a.m. every single day during the school year. They both played football and Kovash played hockey, but they still got into the batting cage two or three times a week as well.
"We were kind of cut short last year," Kovash said. "We were both disappointed. We pushed each other. We hit, got into the gym, lifted weights together. It's just special to do this with your best friend."
The Yellowjackets came back this season, went 22-2 and swept through the Class 2A, Section 8, outscoring teams 56-14 in the playoffs.
"That's the greatest feeling I've ever felt in my life," Rooney said. "Getting that win against Wadena, that's something I've dreamed about ever since I was young."
It's a dream that started in the backyard with Kovash.
"That's something we dreamed about ever since I was 2," Rooney said. "We always played like we were in the World Series or a big game, being successful together. To actually do it with my best friends was special."