There would have been a number of very valid excuses for the Wilcox Chargers baseball team had they failed to win their CCS playoff opener on Saturday against Palma. For starters, the Chargers found out Friday night that their head coach, Matt Huth, would have to miss the game after testing positive for COVID. Missing one’s manager for a playoff game is certainly a tough blow to overcome. Not only that, but there were multiple flukes in the game where having a strong head coach could have potentially been needed.
After yielding a leadoff single, Wilcox ace Jesse Gutierrez accidentally threw a fastball that hit the next batter in the helmet. What proceeded was a rather lengthy delay whilst the Palma staff checked on their injured player for signs of a concussion. It would have been an easy excuse to admit to having been rattled after hitting a batter in the head. However, when play resumed, Gutierrez struck out the next three hitters in a row.
“We kept him warm while they were checking on their guy,” noted Chargers catcher Ryan Houck. “Jesse is a really good pitcher, and we trust him on the mound, so I’m not surprised he was able to strike the next three guys out after that.”
“Jesse has done a great job growing these past four years,” remarked Assistant Coach Adam Rios who filled in as the manager in Huth’s absence. “He was never really nervous going into this, perhaps an advantage of him being a senior now. He was well prepared for the game, so I don’t think the delay really bothered him.”
The delay didn’t seem to bother Gutierrez at all. He not only struck out the side to end the top of the first, but he went six innings allowing just two runs until the fifth and exited the game with a six-run lead. Not only did Gutierrez overcome adversity on an individual level, but the team overcame a big injury as well.
The Chargers saw their No. 3 hitter, Alan Ramirez, go down with an injury on a play that this writer had never seen before. After flying out to left field, Ramirez was rounding second base and headed toward third when an errant relay throw struck him around the neck/collarbone area. At the time of the injury, Wilcox was still nursing the 1-0 lead on the strength of a leadoff home run by Patty Sanchez. However, they were now down one of their big hitters.
Palma in fact would take the lead 2-1 shortly after the injury. Wilcox would not let it rattle them though and immediately responded with a rally to take back the lead. Sanchez would work a leadoff walk. Noel Ramirez followed by knocking a single through the 5.5 hole, and Alan Ramirez’s replacement, Jared Cabildo, also managed a free pass. Gutierrez then smoked a single for an RBI to tie the game. AJ Meneses drove in the go-ahead run with a line drive single and then freshman Matthew Tiendas drew an RBI walk.
In a blink of an eye, the Chargers were up 4-2 and they really never looked back. The Chargers would go on to win the CCS playoff game 10-4. They now take on Branham in the CCS Division II semi-final Thursday, May 26 at 7 p.m.