The Gilbert Indians beat Dillon two out of three games last week to win the state Class 2A baseball championship, winning the title game 6-2 after giving up a couple of runs early. The State’s Jim McLaurin talked with Gilbert coach Ashley Burnett about his 26-5 team, and next year.
WHAT WAS THE KEY TO THIS SEASON?
Chemistry. What I mean by that is, the kids got along well together. They were buddies, and would cut up and pick on each other. If they weren’t aggravating each other to death, they were best buddies. It was quite a group of young men.
LOOKING AT YOUR TEAM STATS, YOU HAD GOOD HITTING ALL THROUGH THE BATTING ORDER.
We did, 1 through 9. We never had to rely on any one or two to get the big hit. We were pretty competitive all the way through.
YOU WILL LOSE FIVE SENIORS, BUT DOES HAVING AS MANY BACK AS YOU WILL BODE WELL FOR NEXT YEAR?
Certainly, when you lose seniors, it hurts, and having kids (back) with experience in the playoffs helps. But we’re losing our catcher and No. 5 hitter (Chip Mallory), our No. 6 hitter and our DH (Zach Tronco). We’re losing our leadoff hitter and No. 3 pitcher (Desmond Kennedy), our No. 2 hitter, Kyle Owings, who is also our leading pitcher, and losing Drew Welborn, who was our key reliever. We’re losing some very valuable young men. It’s not only losing five guys, but five pretty doggone important ones.
DO YOU HAVE GUYS IN MIND TO REPLACE THEM, OR IS THAT SOMETHING THAT WILL BE DETERMINED IN PRESEASON PRACTICE?
With the JV program, you hope you will have some guys step up, and you have some guys who were on the bench this year to step up and fill roles, but right now we really have no preconceived notion who will play where.
FROM THE SCHEDULE, IT LOOKS AS IF YOU STARTED THE SEASON ON A ROUGH NOTE (LOSING TWO OF THE FIRST THREE GAMES), BUT WAS THAT MISLEADING?
Lexington beat us (2-0) in the first game of the year, but we only gave up two hits. And we were up five runs on Dutch Fork late and they ended up coming back and beating us there. We were trying to feel our way through and get guys where they needed to be. I felt like we had a pretty good team, but we continued to get better throughout the year.
WHAT DO YOU THINK WAS YOUR WORST GAME OF THE YEAR?
You can look at a number of things. In the Lexington game, we didn’t hit the ball very well. Against Dutch Fork, we scored enough runs, but we didn’t pitch well. There were no games that I thought we just went out and played terrible. The middle game with Dillon, we didn’t hit it very well, but their guy (Travis Murphy) had an 88-90 mph fastball and a heck of a slider, sometimes that has a tendency to affect your hitting a little bit.
WHAT WAS YOUR BEST GAME, THE LAST ONE?
It would have to be, and for several reasons. For a game of that magnitude, and I’m sure it was a case of nerves, but they were up 2-0 after the first inning. For our kids to show the type of character to come back and not only take the lead, but then keep adding onto it, shows a lot of character. Obviously, Kyle had to throw very well for that to happen, and we made some errors, but we turned two or three double plays, too. And we also had to swing the bats fairly well. That was a big game for us.
CAN YOU DO IT AGAIN NEXT YEAR?
Oh, I don’t know. I wouldn’t put that type of pressure on the kids or the program. This year’s team was this year’s team. Who knows what the future holds for our kids? Next year’s team will create its own identity and we’ll take it not only one game at a time, but one year at a time. That’s kind of the way I look at it.