GRAND PRAIRIE – In baseball, timeliness is everything.
To some, the oft-debated topic of timely hitting could be seen as simply a facade, a statistic that can be attributed to pure luck. But on Friday night, (whether a true testament of skill or not) Ray Gaither could not have been more timely in a different facet of the game. The senior pitcher’s ability to get outs in crucial situations in a complete game shutout carried the Cowboys to a 1-0 victory over Flower Mound in the Class 6A Region I quarterfinal at QuikTrip Park.
Gaither, who played primarily the role of closer throughout the season, allowed some baserunners, but was able to work his way out of jams with ease.
“I found myself with runners on base quite a bit, but I’m used to coming in for those save opportunities,” Gaither said. “I was pretty comfortable with it.”
For the Cowboys, the starting pitcher coming into this game was a tough decision. With Gaither, senior pitcher Charles King and junior pitcher John Kodros all at top form, Coppell coach Kendall Clark had to make the final call on who to start.
“I knew it was going to be a low-scoring game,” Clark said. “I had three options [for starting pitcher], I didn’t know which one to pick until today. I picked the right one, obviously.”
Gaither’s biggest outs came in the sixth inning. After the Cowboys picked up two runs in the top of the inning on senior outfielder Ben Kelly’s RBI triple, he allowed a leadoff double, then a sacrifice fly, moving the runner to third base with only one out in the inning. Gaither popped up the next hitter, but then walked a man with two outs, putting runners at the corners for Flower Mound.
“I was trying to put him away without giving up a base hit,” Gaither said. “I didn’t really care if I walked him. It didn’t really matter if he got on base, I was just trying to get that strikeout.”
With a bullpen as deep as Coppell, the safe move would have been to bring in King or Kodros, both of whom were warming up in the bullpen. However, Clark stuck with Gaither, and he delivered with a full-count strikeout to end the inning and the scoring threat for Flower Mound.
“Especially with the type of arms we have out coming out of the bullpen, it means a lot,” Gaither said. “Normally, anytime in the night, if we got runners on this year we would go to the bullpen. It means a lot to me that they left me in there. It shows that they have a lot of trust in me.”
Moving on to the regional semifinals, the Cowboys will play the winner of Weatherford and Midland Lee, both of whom are 20-plus game winners this year. However, no matter the opponent, the Cowboys will have the advantage in the rest of their players.
“Now we’re resting,” Clark said. “Now our opponent has to catch at least two arms [King and Kodros] real rested, so that’s a plus for us.”
Whether or not opportunistic play is a characteristic or simply sheer luck, that is a debate that will continue to rage on.
But one thing is for sure: on Friday night,Gaither got clutch outs when his team needed it most.