This game wasn’t like “the little team from a small town that makes it to the big city and is awestruck.”
No, this was the Gateway Christian baseball team pumped up, walking around before the game high-fiving each other and chest-bumping each other.
When they were introduced to the crowd before the game, starting pitcher Jaydon Stephens was pumping his arms, trying to incite the Gateway faithful and yelling, “Let’s go.”
All of the players were pumped up as their names were introduced to the crowd.
The championship game was over right then and there for Dora. The Coyotes’ lead-off hitter Austin Wall reached first base on a Gateway Christian error. Wall wound up on third base before Warriors’ starting pitcher Stephens found his control and fastball and struck out three batters in a row to get out of the inning.
If that wasn’t enough, Stephens led off the bottom of the first for Gateway Christian.
Stephens, who has been the Warriors’ hottest hitter, took a 2-2 pitch to deep right field as the ball hit off of the right fielder’s glove.
Stephens rounded first base and took a look up and saw the right fielder fumbling with the ball, and as he rounded second hit another gear with coach Rick Rapp frantically windmilling his right arm, telling him to go home.
“This means so much,” Stephens said, “this is awesome. I can’t explain it. This makes up for the other championships we missed out on.”
Stephens slid head-first into home, but it wasn’t necessary because the Coyotes didn’t get the ball back into the infield before he scored.
It was enough to give them a head start on a game-long championship celebration as they won 12-0 in a mercy-rule game at Santa Ana Star Field on Saturday.
“It feels awesome,” Rapp said. “This is just more special to do this with my grandson, Jaydon Stephens. He was a seventh-grader and he would practice with us, so he’s wanted this ever since he was an eighth-grader and he finally got it.
“Every championship is special, but this is more special with him,” Rapp said.
Gateway Christian had to like the match-up against Dora. The Warriors had already beaten Dora this season in three different games.
They beat them 5-0 on April 1. On May 2, Gateway Christian won again, beating them in a doubleheader 11-0 and 5-2.
The one thing Gateway Christian baseball had talked about the night before the game was, this was the last game they were ever going to play for the seniors.
The second thing was, they didn’t want to be overconfident and overlook Dora after beating them three times this season.
The coaches and players mentioned losing the state title football game to Tatum, a team they had beaten in the regular season.
It seemed Saturday’s stage was too big for Dora as they had more errors, (eight) than hits (one) in the game.
“I told them … let’s do what we’ve been doing all year,” Rapp said in the meeting the night before the game. “We can’t worry about what the other team does, all we can do is swing at strikes and don’t help the pitcher out. And make plays when we have to.”
In the second inning with two outs, Gateway Christian’s Joe Waide reached base when Dora’s shortstop bobbled the ball, and he slid into first base head-first, just beating the throw. Freshman Hurley Breedyk singled between shortstop and third base. Next up was Wyatt Arlet, who hit a bloop single into center field, driving in two runs to give Gateway Christian a 3-0 lead.
Stephens helped his cause again by singling to right field, scoring Wyatt Arlet from second base to give them a 4-0 lead.
In the bottom of the third, Gateway’s Chase Winkler singled up the middle, sending up Jacob Ramos, who doubled inside the third base line to place runners on second and third. Courtesy runner Titus Arlet came in to run for Ramos.
Hayden Wigley hit the ball to the center fielder, who dropped the ball, scoring Winkler from third base. Breedyk would single to left field to drive in another run and give the Warriors a 6-0 lead.
In the fourth, Dora would commit four errors and Gateway Christian would score six runs on two hits, but most of the runs came on errors, giving them the championship, 12-0.
Stephens found his groove after the first inning, allowing one hit and striking out 10 in his last outing as a senior.
“Jaydon (Stephens) was super,” Rapp said. “Our motto has been ‘win each inning.’ He cut them down the first inning and then he hits the inside-the-park home run, and we go from there. He’s done that for us all year.”
For Gateway Christian, this is the fifth championship in program history, with the last coming in 2014. For Stephens, this is the one championship he really wanted after three failed attempts in other various sports throughout his high school career.
The Gateway Christian baseball program is in good shape for the future, according to Rapp.
He played a freshman, but must replace four seniors. For now, Rapp and Warrior Nation will enjoy this championship.
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or email@example.com.