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Gateway Christian one win away from perfection

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Gateway Christian’s Jaydon Stephens gets a base hit in a game against Floyd earlier this season. (David Rocha File Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

For Gateway Christian’s Jaydon Stephens and his crew of seniors, this is what they have been pointing to since they were kids.

For all of their success in basketball, football and baseball, they have never won a state championship.

Gateway is one win away from hoisting the Blue Trophy.

What is making this a dream season for Wyatt Arlet, Riley Arnold, Gage Estes and Stephens is that they have grown up together and they’re best friends.

“I’ve never won,” Jaydon said. “It would mean everything to me. I’ve fallen short three times in state championship games. I’ve been waiting for one for four years, so to win it would mean a lot.”

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One win away from being able to claim undefeated in a season.

In the semifinal matchup against Elida, it was over with before it began. Stephens stepped to the plate and on a 2-2 count hit a single past the Tigers’ first baseman to get it started.

Stephens would go on to hit a double and a triple, and drive in four runs. Gateway Christian would mercy-rule the Elida Tigers 15-2 Friday at Rio Rancho High School in a semifinal game.

“On my first hit,” Jaydon said, “they threw me a curveball and hit it off the end of the bat. Bases were loaded on my second at-bat, I knew they were trying to pitch me outside and shifted their defense that way.

“Since they shifted so far, I just went with the pitch for a triple. On the double, I just squared one up — the pitcher left a fastball up in the zone.”

Elida brought their baseball program back a couple of years ago and was probably overwhelmed by the big stadium. For Gateway Christian, it seemed like a home game. After the Warriors ended Elida’s at-bat, they went to work by putting up eight runs in the fourth-inning.

On the hill for the Warriors was junior Chase Winkler. Winkler didn’t have his best stuff, but was effective enough to limit Elida to two runs in the game. The conditions were less than ideal as it was so windy, which blew the ball in different directions.

On the run Winkler gave up, he threw a high pitch the catcher could not get, allowing Colton Ferguson of Elida to score.

In the bottom of the third inning, Gateway Christian sent 10 batters to the plate, scoring six runs to put the game out of reach at 14-1. In the top of the fourth, Elida scored one run to make the score 15-2.

The Warriors’ head coach Rick Rapp has not won a Blue Trophy since 2014. If Rapp can win the trophy this time, it will mean more to him than any of the other four he has won. All of his trophies are special, but this one will mean more because he has been able to coach his grandson, Jaydon Stephens, the last five years — something he wasn’t able to do with his own son.

“This is awesome,” Jaydon said. “We’ve been really close as a family forever, and it’s been great to be coached by him.”

His son, Tim, played at Goddard and he didn’t have a chance to coach him in high school. Rapp did coach Tim in Little League baseball, summer baseball, but it wasn’t the same as coaching him in high school.

“Being in the state championship is awesome,” Rapp said. “Being able to experience it with my grandson is even better. This is something I’ve always dreamed about, we’ve been close ever since he was an eighth-grader.

“This is special and we’re not done yet.”

If Gateway Christian can win the state title, it will be their first since 2014. This dream-season was born out of adversity last year when the baseball team started 1-3 before getting to 5-5, and ending up 16-7 and 14-4 in district play.

It would have been easy for Rapp to panic but he didn’t. Instead Rapp let his team play through a rough stretch and let the basketball players get comfortable playing baseball. It took some time for the athletes to get their swings back after making a deep run in the basketball season.

Rapp made no secret who’s going to be on the bump today, with the championship on the line. Jaydon will pitch his last high school game: not only for his grandfather, his teammates, the parents and the school, but for himself. Jaydon has dreamed of being a champion since he was a little kid. The New Mexico Military Institute recruit wants the ball in his hand for his last game.

“Jaydon has improved in his control as a pitcher,” Rapp said. “He has worked on his curveball and his fastball has gotten faster.”

Gateway Christian will play either the Dora Coyotes, whom they beat 5-0 on April 1 (and also 11-0 and 6-1 on May 2); or the Jemez Valley Warriors.

These teams played, but the score was not available at press time.

Gateway Christian will play one of them at noon today, at Santa Ana Star Field.

Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or sports@rdrnews.com.