By Jason Della Rosa, Democratic Herald
GUNTER – The Tigers knew they did well last season, and they proved it by coming to the state tournament for the first time in 20 years before suffering a semi-final defeat against the eventual state champion.
And from the moment the ball came back in the middle to take out Gunter, the one-year journey back to the last four began as the underclassmen were leaving the pitch.
The Tigers would not have assumed they had seven returning starters and reinforcements ready to go straight into the formation for the departing seniors, who could waltz back at this point despite the target on their backs.
“You have to stay locked up,” said GHS head coach Daryl Hellman. “A good team, the coaching staff puts pressure on themselves. The expectations are there “.
The first wounds had to be overcome. The pressure of a season where they were almost perfect. Gunter has been working for the past 364 days to make it look easy, but mostly to get another shot in a state championship.
“Last year we were thrilled to be here. Getting there was a big deal, “said senior left fielder Kaden Rigsby.” We knew if we played our game we’d have a chance to come back. Winning this is something we’ll talk about for the rest of our lives. “
The exact same thing could be said for the Tigers opponent when Gunter (36-1) faces Corpus Christi London (25-13) in a Class 3A state semifinal at Round Rock’s Dell Diamond at 9:00 am on Friday. .
“Our elders want this,” Hellman said. “The conversations, the approach hasn’t changed. It’s about staying true to the game. We have two more games left if we’re lucky. “
Brock (35-3) and Diboll (38-4) face off in the other semi-final and the winners enter the state championship game at 9am on Saturday.
“I felt like Brock was the first team in region I and we were in the conversation as the first team in region II,” Hellman said. “Down in region IV, London had another good year, but they were in a borough with Bishop as Pottsboro was with us.”
London suffered an even more heartbreaking defeat to eventual champion Malakoff than Gunter’s 4-3 defeat in the semifinals. The Pirates had a 7-4 lead until the end of seventh and were leading by that margin with two eliminated for a title, but failed to close the deal.
Malakoff had loaded the bases before the second out and then scored four goals, using a single shot, for an 8-7 win.
“We were able to win everything,” Hellman said. “They’ll have a chip on their shoulder with how things went.”
While the Tigers report nearly the entire lineup, the Pirates can do better as London has eight starts returning from their second team. This includes senior pitcher Kade Budd, who beat Brock in the semifinals to bring London to the title game, is 9-2 this spring and the likely candidate to face the Tigers.
Hellman will go to the semifinals with junior Isaac Villanueva, as he did last season against Malakoff, who is 14-1. That would leave Riekkhen Bostick senior, who is 13-0, in line to start on Saturday.
“My job is to get us to the next round,” said Villanueva. “Anything can happen: we play to the best of our abilities. It’s about doing what we’ve been doing all season ”.
There is also stability in the lineup: none of the regulars are hitting below .270 and six are hitting at least .320. Cade Dodson leads with an average of .515 while Trey Oblas is at .480 and Carter Layton is at .400.
“You should be playing hard at this time of year. We expect it on Friday,” said Hellman. “You have to pick up the runners and you have to score them”.
London ended 2021 with a score of 33-6, but this version of the Pirates struggled during the regular season, including a five-game losing streak before entering the playoffs and a record of 5-5 after their first 10 games.
London has lost only once in the post-season: the central match of the Region IV final against district rival Bishop, who drew at the top of the table 30-3A and retaliated for losing two out of three, including a game of playoff for the top seed. London won 3-1 and 4-3 around a 3-2 defeat by eliminating Bishop in the regional final for the second straight season.
Of London’s eight post-season wins, half were in one race and another in two.
To get to the state, the Pirates pulled off that crucial Game 3 thanks to a two-point homer from Jayden Martinez while Jacob Gonzales and Mason Arispe added double RBI.
“We are both very good teams. We both know it’s going to be a battle, “Rigsby said.” We both want it badly.