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LA JOYA Whether faced with a play-in game to clinch a playoff berth on the final day of the regular season, a Game 1 of a best-of-three postseason series or a one-game playoff in a do-or-die situation, La Joya has turned to its senior ace JC Gutierrez over the past four years.

The left-handed flame thrower and Texas Tech signee, Gutierrez has delivered repeatedly for the Coyotes, who have gone 5-1 in his six starts during the 2021 and 2022 playoffs. He ranks No. 1 in Texas with 150 strikeouts this season, according to MaxPreps.

Now, Gutierrez leads La Joya High (21-11-1) into a Region IV-6A semifinal three-game series against No. 2-ranked Lake Travis (31-5), according to the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association top 10 poll.

Game 1 between the Coyotes and Cavaliers is slated for 6 tonight. Game 2 is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday, with Game 3, if necessary, to follow 30 minutes after. All games will be played at Sinton High School.

“We’ve all believed in each other. We always fight til the end,” JC Gutierrez said. “Whoever’s turn it is, we all just believe and give them confidence that they’re going to shine and pull through to give us that winning run or that winning out.”

La Joya High head coach Mario Flores knew the Coyotes had a gamer on their hands during JC Gutierrez’s first season with the team.

“Ever since he was a freshman, we’ve always seen that he has something special. Every year he’s improved his skills,” Flores said. “When he’s on the mound, the whole team feels confident, he feels confident, and having him on the mound gives you a great opportunity to be successful.”

Right by Gutierrez’s side during the past four seasons have been catcher Jose “Guti” Gutierrez and outfielder and reliever Hugo Cantu, both fellow four-year lettermen. Since the trio joined the program, the Coyotes have won a district championship and five playoff series victories.

“These seniors have been playing together since they were in middle school, even before. They’ve had that chemistry since then, and now with the younger guys, they just feed off of the seniors and it’s something special to watch,” Flores said.

“Guti” Gutierrez has been behind the plate for JC Gutierrez (no relation) for the last seven seasons. The two bring their chemistry to the diamond, which La Joya has leaned on.

“It’s been a great experience since middle school coming to high school. We showed up and have played our best to get here,” “Guti” Gutierrez said.

La Joya High’s Jose Gutierrez (15) catches against Weslaco High in a Region IV-6A Bi-District playoff game at PSJA Southwest Baseball Stadium on Friday, May 6, 2021, in Pharr. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

“He understands me so well. He knows how the ball moves, he knows everything about how I pitch and I’m glad I’m able to have that relationship with him,” JC Gutierrez said of the La Joya catcher. “I know what he’s capable of, and we just understand each other so well when we’re out there.”

JC Gutierrez has punched out 10 or more batters in each of his six postseason starts the past two seasons with 65 total Ks compared to 17 hits and five earned runs. He’ll look to set the tone in Game 1 against Lake Travis in a David vs. Goliath playoff matchup.

The Cavaliers’ road to Round 4 includes playoff series wins over Austin Vandegrift, San Antonio Johnson and San Antonio Clark.

“We have to play hard, have fun and have a good time in general whether we’re winning or losing,” JC Gutierrez said. “I know people probably think we’re done because we’re facing a bunch of 6 feet, 2 inches guys, but baseball’s not about carrying them. It’s not like football, we don’t have to tackle them. We just have to beat them and outplay them, and thankfully we have the team to do it.”

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