The Gladstone baseball team is on a mission.
The Gladiators — the 2018 Class 4A state champions and a state quarterfinalist in 2019 — know they've only got six weeks to work with in the pandemic-shortened 2021 season, and they're determined to make the most of it.
They've done just that thus far in the new season, winning their first five games by a combined total of 79-6, the latest of those a 9-2 win over Madras at Gladstone High School on Thursday, April 22.
"I think we were feeling pretty good coming into the game since last night we shut them out 15-0, but we still need to dominate on the field because we know their potential and that they're going to come out and they're going to play just as hard and anything can happen," said Gladstone senior third baseman Mateo Burgos, who went 1 for 4 at the plate with a triple and one run scored.
"We want to make a statement out there to all the other teams ... to show them we're around here to play and compete," said sophomore pitcher/third baseman Hayden Smith, who got the win after pitching his team into the fifth inning, allowing one run on two hits, four walks and two hit batters while striking out seven.
With the win, Gladstone's fifth straight, the Gladiators improved to 5-0 in Tri-Valley Conference play and 5-0 overall. Madras, meanwhile, lost for the fourth straight time and fell to 2-4 in both TVC play and overall.
While Gladstone pulled away late in Thursday's game, the White Buffalos were proud to have stayed close for as long as they did.
"(Smith is) a good pitcher — he threw pretty hard — but we just needed to attack earlier pitches and we would have been all right," said Madras junior second baseman Carter Dunten, who went 1 for 3 at the plate, reached base three times and scored once.
"Coming in, we just wanted to come out here and play the best game of baseball we could play," added junior pitcher/first baseman Reece White, who threw four innings, allowing three earned runs on three hits and five walks while striking out six.
After a scoreless first inning — Madras got a game-opening double by sophomore Cael White but couldn't score — Gladstone broke on top with one run in the bottom of the second. There, sophomore Brayde Owen walked, moved to third on a Madras error, then scored on junior Garrett Finch's sacrifice fly to center.
Undaunted, the White Buffalos came back to tie the game at 1-1 in their half of the third, with Dunten reaching base after being hit by a pitch, taking second on a fly out and scoring when Smith threw away a pickoff attempt at second.
The Gladiators tied the game on two Madras errors in their half of the third, then took control for good in a three-run fourth. In that at-bat, Finch led off with a walk, freshman Isiah Conner singled to right, and with one out, senior Brady McNett singled to right to load the bases.
Senior Ryan Lee followed with an RBI fielder's choice, senior Greer Gonzolez walked and Smith then popped up between first and second. But when Smith's ball dropped in the infield dirt between the Madras first baseman, second baseman and right fielder, two more runs came home and pushed Gladstone's lead to 5-1.
After stopping a Madras threat in the fifth — Gonzolez came on in relief to thwart a two-on, no-out chance — the Gladiators added another three runs in their half of the frame to extend their lead to 8-1.
Facing Madras junior reliever T.J. Stout, Gladstone got a single from Owen, a walk to Finch and two runs when Madras threw the ball away on Conner's slow roller to shortstop. Then, with one out, Conner scored from first on McNett's single to center and a Madras error.
The White Buffalos rallied with one run in the top of the sixth — senior Jordan Mitchell reached base with two outs when he was hit by a pitch, stole second and scored on a Gladstone error.
But the Gladiators got a leadoff triple from Burgos in the seventh inning and a run-scoring sacrifice fly from Owen for the final 9-2 margin.
McNett went 2 for 3 to pace Gladstone, while Gonzolez picked up the save after pitching the final three innings, allowing one run on no hits, one walk and two hit batters while striking out four.
Whatever lies ahead, the Gladiators say they're going to get as much as possible out of their 2021 season.
"We're coming out to win," Burgos said. "We're going to come out, and if there's a state championship, we're going for that or we're going for nothing."
In similar fashion, the White Buffalos said they were determined to make the most out of their truncated season.
"Going forward, we're just going to try and play the best baseball we can and win as many games as possible," White added.
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