Nobody on Gatesville’s roster has playoff experience; at least, not technically.
The Hornets’ current seniors were not even in high school the last time the team reached the postseason, but Gatesville’s lack of familiarity with the intense and pressure-filled atmosphere appears to be of little significance.
After all, Gatesville has been fighting for its playoff life for more than a week now.
The Hornets were forced to beat Lampasas in the regular-season finale and survive a tiebreaker against Brownwood on Friday to secure their first postseason berth since 2010, when the team made a run to the regional quarterfinals.
Although Gatesville head coach Graig Keeton would have preferred to avoid taking the difficult route into the postseason, he believes it had some advantages.
“The last two games we played, we had to win or we were done,” he said. “We performed pretty well in those two games, so hopefully we have got those playoff jitters out of the way. Hopefully, that is something they won’t have to deal with.”
The Hornets open their Class 3A bi-district best-of-three series against Stephenville on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Glen Rose. The scene shifts to Brownwood on Friday for Game 2 before returning to Glen Rose on Saturday for Game 3 if necessary.
Despite facing the 2013 Region I finalists, like Keeton, Gatesville senior Christian George does not believe the team’s collective inexperience will play a factor.
“We’ve got the older guys who are definitely pumped and ready to be in this game,” the catcher said. “But then you’ve got the younger guys, who have never been in a pressure situation. They are nervous, but at the same time, they are ready to go.”
Gatesville (11-18-1) struggled during District 8-3A play, losing four consecutive games after starting with a 2-3 record. Thanks to the University Interscholastic League’s rule change increasing the number of playoff qualifiers from each district to four, however, the Hornets still had hope.
Sitting in a three-way tie with Lampasas and Brownwood with two games remaining, everything fell into place for the Hornets as they won the games they absolutely had to.
First, Gatesville traveled to Lampasas and beat the Badgers 4-3 before rebounding from an 11-1 loss to the Lions 10 days prior to defeat Brownwood 10-4 and clinch the district’s final spot.
For Gatesville senior Seth Martin, who has been on varsity since his sophomore season, the trip holds special meaning.
“Every year, we’ve come up just one game short or one play short,” the shortstop said. “It has been really frustrating. So, this year, to finally be on a team that came through to make the playoffs, especially in the way we did it — in a win-or-go-home type of game — it has been really exciting, and it is something I’ve been wanting to do for three years now.”
While the Hornets had to fight to the final out for their spot, Stephenville had a much easier road to the postseason.
The Yellow Jackets (17-10-1) come into the series having won nine of their last 12 games, including a 10-0 victory against Hillsboro in the regular-season finale, and Stephenville’s pitching gives Keeton reason for concern.
“Something they consider their strength is their pitching staff,” he said. “Going into a series, it is a little scary to face a team you know is really deep.”
Martin believes the key to success, though, lies in Gatesville’s ability to produce offense.
“We’ve just got to hit the ball,” he said. “We haven’t been doing that well of late, and I think that is going to be the reason why we win the series or lose it.
“They are going to have good pitching, and you’ve got to play defense, but we have to score when we can, and that is going to be the difference.”
After fighting to simply reach the postseason, George intends to make the most of his one and only playoff experience.
“It has a special meaning because this is the last year,” he said. “So, I’m going to go out and see how far we can keep going.”
GATESVILLE VS. STEPHENVILLE
- GAME 1 — Thursday, 7:30 p.m., at Glen Rose
- GAME 2 — Friday, 7:30 p.m., at Brownwood
- GAME 3 (if necessary) — Saturday, 5:30 p.m., at Glen Rose