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Gateway baseball undefeated heading into playoffs

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The Gateway Christian Warriors finished the regular season 18-0. They will play Elida in a Class 1A state semifinal at 10 a.m. Friday at Rio Rancho High School. (Submitted Photo)

The Gateway Christian Warriors boys’ athletic programs experienced a banner 2018-19 season. But they came up short of winning a state title in football, and in basketball. All that remains now is a shot of winning the 1A baseball title, and with an undefeated record they have more than a great chance of bringing home the Blue Trophy.

The Warriors are the top seed in the upcoming 1A baseball playoffs and are in the final four already. So are the Warriors a little bit overconfident entering next week’s playoffs? Warriors coach Rick Rapp only has to remind his players of what happened in the 8-man football title game against Tatum to get their attention.

The Warriors were the top seed entering the game. “Most of these kids played football and basketball this year. In the (football) title game we got beat by Tatum, who we had beaten twice in the regular season,” Rapp painfully recalls. “If there is a lesson to be learned from that game,” said Rapp, “they know how important is to be ready to play,”

Staying focused will probably be the Warriors’ toughest task. Of the nine teams in 1A, the Warriors have beaten seven. Dora at 13-7 seemed poised to take a run at the Warriors. But unlike any sport, the sport of baseball is about numbers and the Warriors certainly had Dora’s — in three games against them this season, they went 3-0 against Dora.

They beat them 5-0, 11-0 and 6-1. Gateways pitchers gave up one run in those three guns. Two of their arms are young guns and the other is the veteran gunslinger Jaydon Stephens.

“He is overpowering with his fastball,” Rapp said of Stephens. “He has a great breaking ball and another off-speed pitch that makes it difficult for opposing teams to hit him,” Rapp added.

If Stephens doesn’t scare hitters, junior Chase Winkler has batters chasing the bender and eighth-grader Hayden Wigley has batters guessing — which in turn keeps them off balance.

Gateway also has a defense that’s allowed only 1.2 runs a game this season. Elida was the only team that scored five runs against Gateway this year.

On offense, the Warriors have been tearing the cover of the ball. They are averaging 13.2 runs a game. “We are very good putting the ball in play, we move runners in scoring position then with a key hit or hits we bring them in,” said Rapp.

With other 1A teams the strength of the batting order begins with the leadoff batter and tapers off at the bottom of the lineup. The same cannot be said for the Warriors. “Our strength is our consistency throughout the batting lineup it has enabled us to have some big innings,” Rapp emphasized.

A big slugger for the Warriors would be a luxury but they don’t need one. Then again, the other teams the Warriors have faced this season did not display any long ball drives against them. The Warriors’ state of mind for the playoffs is simple, take one game at a time. “We need to stay focused, do the little things we’ve done all season long and just take one game at a time,” said Rapp.

On paper, Gateway is by far the most dominant team in the 1A playoffs. But there is a reason that teams and individuals play the game. You just never know. Just ask Mike Tyson about the punch that knocked him into tomorrow from the fist of James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, and took the heavyweight boxing title from him.

Or when Joe Namath and the upstart New York Jets of the ragtag AFL upset the Baltimore Colts of the established NFL in the Superbowl. And what about the tiny little gelding, Mine that Bird of Roswell, which outran the blueblood colts down the rail at Churchill Downs at the 2009 Kentucky Derby.

The Warriors see the prize in front of them. Many of the players on this team experienced the agony of defeat — this year in the football title game — and didn’t like the taste of it. It’s that bad taste left in their mouths that has motivated them to go out as champions as the school year ends.

The semi-finals will be Friday, May 17 at Rio Rancho High School, and the championship game will be at the Santa Ana Star Field on the campus of the University of New Mexico.