Despite losing four consecutive games and only winning twice during District 8-3A play, Gatesville is on the verge of finally returning to the playoffs.
After reaching the postseason every year from 2005 to 2010 with regional quarterfinal appearances in both 2006 and 2010, the Hornets have suffered through a slump, failing to make the playoffs every season since.
Sporting a 9-18-1 record, including a 2-7 run through district, Gatesville can keep its postseason hopes alive by beating Lampasas (2-7) in the regular season finale Tuesday and could clinch the district’s fourth and final playoff berth with a win and a Brownwood (2-7) loss.
Hornets head coach Graig Keeton talked with the Herald’s Clay Whittington on Sunday regarding his team and the possibility of finally ending its current playoff drought.
For all your struggles, how does it feel to still be in the hunt for the playoffs?
It is just one of those things. The format is different this year with four teams per district qualifying, and we never could have imagined we would have the misfortunes we’ve had and really not play real well and have a chance. But in this format, we do, and we certainly want to take advantage of the opportunity to play extra games. Regardless of how the format is, we will take it, but we’ve got to play well to beat Lampasas because they are playing pretty well right now, too, even though they are kind of in the same boat we are. They are playing everyone competitive, and we have been playing everyone competitive also. So for two teams that have struggled throughout the year, we will see who wants to play more baseball.
How do you feel about the matchup?
Every little thing adds up. They’ve got good kids, we’ve got good kids, and I think both teams are going to want it. It is easy to say that — who wants it more — and it is a little bit of an adage, but it is about how you perform, and we need a good performance on the mound and to score more runs than we have consistently all year. We had one outburst there where we scored 11 and lost in extra innings.
But as far as how we match up, it is very similar. We are both very capable, and if you look at their schedule and scores and our schedule and scores, it is very similar. So I do think we have what it takes if we put it all together, but they do, too. So if both teams put it all together and have a really good night, it should be a really good ballgame.
What is the players’ mindset like heading into this game?
Well, we lost a heartbreaker Thursday to Liberty Hill and played really well and had a really good mindset, but at the end of that game, we found out losing by one to the best team hurts just as bad as losing by seven or eight or more. Losing is losing. This group doesn’t like to lose, but at the same time, we’ve had to deal with it. Mindset-wise, I’d hope we’d be fed up with losing to the point that everyone is going to do whatever it takes to get this one in the ‘W’ column, so we can play some more. Then we can feel a little better about things and see if we can make some noise, get in the playoffs and maybe upset some people. That would be the ultimate. That would be a lot of fun to play some good baseball against some good folks and maybe play spoiler. But it all starts Tuesday.
As a graduate of Gatesville and longtime coach there, what would it mean for you to get the team back to the playoffs?
That was a goal we set coming into the year, and that is the goal we have every year. It would be important for our future. It would get our young guys some more baseball, more experience and maybe some confidence. We had a streak there, and it was a lot of fun. Some of these guys, they remember parts of it, but they haven’t been a part of it, so it has been frustrating to be a good team that hasn’t got in. That’s not to say we are not a good team this year, but we have struggled more this year and still have an opportunity to get in. Whereas in the last few years, we’ve been 5-5 and stayed at home, being basically one game out every year and playing everyone competitive. This year is a little different, but it would mean a lot. It would mean a lot for our seniors to feel good about their season and for our young guys to get experience and extra baseball and to play in front of a bigger crowd with a little more added pressure. They don’t know what that is like, and I’d like to see them get to do that this year and build on something into the next couple years.