GUNTER — It’s already been a special school year in athletics for Gunter High School, with a state championship in football. The Tigers’ baseball players, many of whom were members of that football team, would like to make it even more special.
“We’re always excited about making it back to the fourth round,” said senior Trey Carr, who quarterbacked the Tigers to the Class 3A Division II title in December. “The last time we did was two years ago when we lost to Edgewood. We’d like to win this one and move on to the fifth round.”
The next step in the baseball Tigers’ path forward begins tonight with a long bus ride to Carthage to take on Beckville at 7 p.m. in Game 1 of a 3A Region II semifinal best-of-three series. Games 2 and 3 are back at a familiar place for the Tigers: Anna High School on Saturday at 3 p.m.
The Tigers (31-7) opened the playoffs at Anna with a bi-district sweep of Whitewright, and it was also at Anna last Saturday that the Tigers passed their sternest test of the postseason, taking the decisive Game 3 against Farmersville, 7-5.
“It probably helped us getting to play a Game 3,” Gunter head coach Kerry Clement said. “We hadn’t been put in that situation yet, and you know it’s going to happen again sometime down the road. We’ve got an idea of how to deal with it now.”
Senior Bo Whitteker pitched into the sixth inning and got the win for the Tigers in Game 3, and sophomore Kaden Satre, thrown into a pressure-packed situation, got out of a jam in the sixth and then pitched a scoreless seventh to earn the save.
“We expect big things out of him in the years to come,” Clement said of Satre.
The Tigers have six seniors, five of them starters. With the notable exception of senior catcher Dillon Tinajero, who transferred from Sherman, most of Gunter’s players have been together since T-ball.
“We’ve played with each other for a long time, and I think that’s one advantage that we have coming into our junior and senior years,” Carr said. “We’ve got that chemistry, and that helps us out a lot.”
Ace senior righthander Mason Mazerolle will start Game 1 once again for the Tigers. Mazerolle, who returned to the mound in March, has finally been cleared to hit and run bases as his recovery from ACL surgery nears completion.
Carr, also a righty, will get the nod for Game 2 on Saturday. Last Friday night, Carr ran up against Farmersville’s No. 1, junior Lyle Hibbitts, and got no offensive support in a 4-0 loss that marked Gunter’s first shutout of the season.
“Unfortunately he had to pitch against their No. 1, and he did a good job keeping it at 1-0 for so long,” Clement said. “We just couldn’t scratch a run.”
Added Carr: “They had a good lineup with good hitters, so it kind of shows you what you need to work on and what you can improve on for the next round.”
The Tigers bounced back on Saturday by scoring runs in every inning except the sixth. Braiden Clopton, Whitteker, Bryson Jolly and Matt Hunter all finished with two hits.
“We hit the ball well from one through nine,” Clement said. “Somebody’s going to get a hit. If we can just string a couple of hits together, we can put some runs on the board.”
Like Gunter, which owns two state championships and a runner-up finish in its baseball history, Beckville (25-6) has a long diamond tradition of its own. Texomaland baseball fans with a long memory will recall that the Bearcats beat Savoy in the Class 1A region finals in 2001 to advance to state, rallying from seven runs down in Game 2 to win a wild 13-12 game.
After making the state semifinals in 2015, Beckville last year went 31-1-1, with the one loss coming against Flatonia in the Class 2A state championship game. This year, the Bearcats moved up to 3A with eight starters back from last year and finished as District 16-3A runners-up behind New Diana.
Beckville has beaten Gladewater Sabine, Winnsboro and Troup to get to the region semis. Ethan Harris will likely get the ball for the Bearcats in tonight’s series opener, with Trey Lindsay set to go in Game 2.
“They’re going to be a really good test for us,” Clement said. “We’re going to have to continue to play good defense like we have. We’ve been playing outstanding defense. Pitchers are going to have to limit their walks and we’ve got to get the big hits when we’ve got runners on base.”
If Gunter can advance, it potentially could set up an all-District 9-3A region final against Whitesboro, with the winner advancing to state. Whitesboro took a 1-0 series lead on Wednesday night by hanging on for a 5-4 win against New Diana in Game 1 of their semifinal series.
“That would be awesome to match up with Whitesboro again,” Carr said. “We kind of know what they can do and they know what we can do.”