Decatur baseball makes district tournament for first time since 2018

The Gators take on Puyallup in a winner to state game, looking for their first state appearance since 2015.

Since Decatur High School legend Brandon Jackson has been wandering the dirt at the school, keeping the spirit of Decatur baseball alive, the Gators have made the playoffs just twice.

But this year, it’s a new era of Gators baseball with a touch of the past from days of old. Jackson and the Gators are heading back to the postseason for the first time since 2018.

“We’ve always been so close. We have just fallen short. Finally getting it done sets us up for the future as well as right now,” junior utility player Spencer Holloway said.

Under skipper Chris Fox, Decatur has been searching for some playoff experience. Since he took over the program in 2019, that is the one thing Decatur has been missing.

“It is huge for these guys. Our seniors now haven’t seen it yet, and our freshmen to get that experience is huge for us,” Fox said.

The season to break the dry spell seemed to be an unlikely one. The Gators finished with a 10-11 overall record, but a vital 6-6 league record. Even though Decatur was a game under .500 overall, they were able to do enough to snag the third seed heading into the district tournament.

Part of the season Decatur had was they had some high-quality wins. Victories over Kennedy, Tahoma and Stadium (non-league) showed the potential of this team. But every league series, they split, thus the 6-6 league record.

“I think we’re a very young team and inexperienced with some of us not playing an entire high school season. We have the talent to beat any team, but we just don’t have that consistency yet because we are so young,” Holloway said.

Along with Kentridge and Kentwood, the three schools were all 6-6 in league play. So why was Decatur third, despite having less runs scored, more runs allowed, and a worse overall record? The reason is quite simple, but the explanation still has Fox scratching his head.

Wins over Kennedy and Tahoma gave Decatur a lead in “power points,” which are the determining factor if teams are tied head-to-head and need an additional tiebreaker.

The volatility and inconsistency really created a struggle for the Gators this season. They beat top-10 teams in the state at the 3A and 4A level. But they dropped games to teams outside the top 30.

“A big thing is we are confident, and if we win the first game, we kind of let loose on the gas pedal. Then if we lose the first game, that kind of hypes us up to get us ready for the next game,” said senior Samuel Ramirez.

A big positive for this Decatur side is the youth. Three freshmen are in Fox’s starting nine compared to just two starting seniors. Making the postseason is a huge accomplishment for the seniors, while also being a stepping-stone for the underclassmen that are all over the field for Decatur.

“They (freshman) have definitely matured a lot over the season … Overall they have just matured in a lot of areas since the beginning of the year,” said Ramirez.

With seven games remaining, Decatur faltered, losing three straight games for the second time of the season. It is a difficult place to be in when it seems like nothing is going right, pressure builds, and players try to force their way out of the slump.

“The big thing was we did was not letting it hold us down and learn from those mistakes … Those three games we took our foot off the gas thinking they were easy games and let loose. The big thing is not worrying about it and learning from those mistakes,” Ramirez said.

The Gators were able to snap the cold streak and won four out of the next six games, sealing a postseason berth in the process.

“We were able to clear the air,” Fox said. “They carry a ton of pressure on themselves, for whatever reason… Team meetings are huge for us, getting together and giving these guys a sense of empowerment is huge.”

To the outside viewer, making the district tournament might seem insignificant. Nothing really looks accomplished, but the resilience the Gators have shown impressed Fox.

On May 7, the Gators have another tall task in front of them. A team that has beaten some of the best will need to pull off the improbable against the Puyallup Vikings. It’s not impossible, and unknown if the Vikings throw D-1 commit Mason Pike, but Decatur has its work cut out.

The players are going in with a mindset of that of a Roman gladiator entering the arena, welcoming the challenge.

“Obviously massive underdogs going into that game. I guess you just can’t be scared of anybody in baseball. Baseball is a wild sport, anything can happen,” Holloway said.

“Personally for me, it’s going to show me if I can play at the collegiate level… I’m excited,” Ramirez said.

Skipper Chris Fox hitting some ground balls before the game against Bellevue Christian. Ben Ray / The Mirror

Skipper Chris Fox hitting some ground balls before the game against Bellevue Christian. Ben Ray / The Mirror

Decatur players breakout for pregame warmup. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Decatur players breakout for pregame warmup. Ben Ray / The Reporter