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Gaither Shuts Out Belen Jesuit To Reach State Final

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All season long the Gaither Cowboys have relied on team speed and aggressiveness to fuel their offense. Playing against a tough Belen Jesuit pitching staff in Thursday afternoon’s Class 7A state semifinal at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers, the Cowboys were able to get that winning formula working early and often.

Behind a relentless offensive attack and a dominant start from senior Gavin Gillespie, Gaither blanked the Wolverines 5-0 to advance to Saturday’s state championship. The Cowboys (19-9) will face defending state champion Venice (26-5), after the Indians won 3-2 over Creekside in the other 7A semifinal Thursday morning.

“We feel very, very happy that we are going to go to the state championship game,” Gaither manager Nelson North said. “I like our team’s focus, and obviously I love the pitching and defense. We took advantage of our speed game and today it worked out for us. I felt Belen Jesuit was a very well-coached team and we feel fortunate to win.”

Gaither stormed out in front with it’s first swings. Edgar Nunez reached on an error and stole second base, and Kenny Rodriguez rolled an RBI single through the left side.

“I was just trying to look for a fastball and be aggressive, and time it up,” Rodriguez said about his first at bat.

Camryn Williams followed by lining a single over the shortstop and a double-steal put both base runners in scoring position. Danny Gutcher drove a fly ball to right field for a sac-fly RBI that plated Rodriguez and Chipper Holland lined an RBI single up the middle for a 3-0 lead.

The Cowboys added another run an inning later. Jose Cardenas doubled to left field on a shot just past the diving outfielder, and he scored on an error to extend the lead.

Gaither was at it again in the fourth as the Cowboys chased Wolverines starter Pablo Arevalo. AJ Drisdom singled to third on a check swing, Ricardo Gonzalez reached on catcher’s interference and then both runners got into scoring position on another double steal that kept the pressure on.

Gavin Gillespie allowed just two hits in the complete-game shutout.

“The guys have seen that if you keep doing that and then we get that big hit, it becomes a little bit easier to put runs across,” North said. “It’s what we try to do from the beginning and it’s the team we built, but these are the guys that built in and actually did it. They bought into this and they live it and they do an excellent job of it.”

Cardenas delivered a grounder up the middle that drove in Drisdom, but the courtesy-runner was gunned down at the plate on a nice throw from Belen center fielder Christian Del Castillo to catcher Andrew Hernandez.

Cardenas finished 3-for-4 on the day, and also had the privilege to haul in the the last out on a fly ball to center field for his fifth putout of the afternoon. Upon making the catch and sealing the win, the junior humbly dropped to one knee for a quick personal moment of prayer.

“It was very exciting and I thank God for everything,” Cardenas said. “Don’t take any day for granted.”

Gillespie focused on staying calm, hitting his spots and working pitch by pitch. The left-hander was crafty, effective and tough to hit, retiring 17 batters in a row during one stretch. He lived in the strike zone by throwing 55 of his 77 pitches for strikes, yet still only allowed two hits and two walks and recorded seven strikeouts.

“We like to mix it up a lot and go inside, because rarely people expect inside,” Gillespie said.

Much like all the teams that come from Gaither’s part of the state, the Cowboys have faced tough competition all year long. That preparation should come in handy Saturday against a talented and dangerous Venice opponent.

“They are a great team, a great program and they are well-coached,” North said of the Indians. “It will be a good game and it will be two good teams in a 7A battle.”

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