The Shoemaker baseball team won just two district games in John Gueits’ first three season as a varsity starter.
And there were worse seasons even before he joined the team.
But the four-year starter held onto hope, believing he and his Grey Wolves teammates could prove everyone wrong about Shoemaker baseball.
“I’ve always had hope,” Gueits said. “The hope has always been there, the faith.”
“It was hard, stressful, frustrating. But, we fought through it; we’re a team,” the senior thirdbaseman/pitcher added of the team’s struggles.
Shoemaker beat Ellison 9-2 Saturday in a three-team tie-breaker at Killeen High to clinch its first-ever playoff berth.
“It’s something we’ve talked about since my freshman year and never accomplished. It feels really good,” Gueits said.
Shoemaker (16-11) plays District 7-5A champion Midlothian (23-7-1) in a one-game, Region I-5A bi-district playoff Friday at Baylor Ballpark on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“We knew we can’t stop, now,” said senior catcher Albert Castro. “We just have to keep going, keep pushing, keep the drive going, keep further making history with the Shoemaker team.”
Castro transferred from Ellison midway through his junior year. After starting on the Eagles’ varsity as a sophomore, Castro played JV at Shoemaker last year. This year, he leads the Grey Wolves with a .391 batting average and a .594 slugging percentage.
“In the back of my mind, I was thinking about what it would be like to beat my old school. And getting to beat them (in the play-in) felt really great,” Castro said. “I actually cried knowing I beat my old school and my old friends to get into the playoffs.”
The Grey Wolves won six of seven district games, including five straight, during one stretch of the season after a 1-4 start in District 8-5A. The run began with an eight-inning, 5-4 win over perennial power Waco Midway on March 22 that made everything afterward possible.
“That win got all of our confidence up as if saying we could beat anybody,” said sophomore shortstop Raven Sauceda. “Everybody talks about Midway and we beat Midway, and that’s telling us that we should be able to beat anybody, and we had that talent to beat anybody.”
Belton handed the Grey Wolves a humbling loss after the win over Midway, but Shoemaker’s five-game win streak followed, beginning with a critical 3-0 win over Ellison.
The Grey Wolves lost three straight to end the regular season, including a 7-5 loss to the Eagles in the finale, and finished the season tied with Ellison and Harker Heights for the final two playoff spots with a 7-7 record in 8-5A.
“The game started off kind of slow and Ellison got the momentum. The team was dead, they had no energy,” said Shoemaker ace pitcher Roberto Delgado through an interpreter.
Nursing an injured middle finger on his throwing hand, Delgado took the loss after giving up four runs on three hits in one inning. The junior gave up a home run and walked five. Delgado, who moved from Puerto Rico last year, came back the next day and hit an RBI single to help the Grey Wolves beat Ellison in the tie-breaker.
Last year, Delgado struggled both on the field and with his transition to the United States. But, with a better grasp on the English language and how to juggle both school and baseball, the junior settled in this year.
“(I) came here last year — first year in America — (I) felt a little shy, (I) didn’t want to stand out, (I) wanted to just fit in with the rest of his team,” Delgado said. “Then after that transition, this year, (I) got more familiar, know a little more English, (my) work ethic is coming around. It’s just felt natural this year.”
The Grey Wolves set program records for overall wins (16) and district wins (7) this season. Prior to this season, Shoemaker’s best year was 2002 when the Grey Wolves went 9-14 overall and 3-7 in District 17-4A. After that, they won just five district games total and had just three seasons with five or more wins until this year.
“We’re the underdogs every year. Nobody expects to do better,” Gueits said. “So us making it (the playoffs) and proving people wrong makes it all worthwhile.”
“I feel very excited. I feel really good about our team,” Gueits added. “Our work is just going to pay off.”