The Gilbert Indians earned a spot in the Class 3A Lower State tournament with an 8-2 win over James Island in the District 7 championship at home on Friday.
“From here, everybody’s 0-0, and you’ve just got to go out and play baseball, and hopefully, we’ll play better,” said coach Ashley Burnett, whose team improved to 23-2 despite getting four hits.
Gilbert’s superior defense, led by undefeated pitcher Mitch Spires and first baseman Patrick Price, was key to the win, while James Island errors turned a one-run game into a blowout in the fourth inning.
Gilbert was leading 3-2 going into the bottom of the inning. With the bases empty and two outs, Jaylen Jennings took first on an error. Josh Tanner followed with a single to left, the only hit of the inning. Jennings scored on a passed ball, while Jaylen Williams was walked to bring up Ryan Knolls with two runners on base. Tanner scored, and Knolls took the base on a fielding error at first base.
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Then, when Gilbert senior Mitch Spires hit to left, two James Island errors allowed the single to go for two runs, setting the final score.
“It was huge, simply because we were putting the ball in play but it wasn’t always finding the hole. And right there, that was the breakthrough,” Burnett said. “It was fortunate, and it came at a good time for us.”
The Indians had taken a two-run lead in the first inning, and James Island put one across on a sacrifice fly ball from Chad Harden in the second.
Jennings’ single got the Indians going in the bottom of the inning. He stole two bases to get in position to score with Knolls up to bat against two outs. Knolls hit a groundball into right field to send Jennings home, but Knolls was tagged out at first, and Jared Williams was caught in a rundown trying to score. The session closed with the Indians up 3-1.
In the fourth, Mitch Spires walked leadoff hitter Hunter Mixon, and John Thelan got off a single past the shortstop. When Jackson White hit to short again, the Indians turned a 7-4-3 double play to pick off White and Thelan, allowing Mixon to score a run for the Trojans.
W: Mitch Spires (7-1) L: Daniel Wilcot (3-3). Hitters: Jaylen Jennings (G) 2-3; John Thelan (J) 2-3.