When the home plate umpire gestured to Canon Feist that he could take first base on an intentional walk, Nate Gentzel was furious.

With the game tied in the top of the seventh inning on Saturday, May 21, Lamar would rather take its chances with Gentzel than Feist. 

The only problem is that Gentzel had been ripping the cover off the ball all day and there was no reason to think his next at-bat would be any different.

And it wasn’t. Gentzel drove the ball for a base hit, which scored Hayden Martinez from second base, giving the Mustangs a one-run lead.

Feist would cross home later in the inning to give them an 11-9 win over Lamar to claim the Class 3A Region 7 championship and a spot in the state baseball tournament. 

“I saw them walk Canon and I was hot (with the bat),” Gentzel said. “That was a mistake on their part. I knew I was hitting that ball.”

That attitude right there reflected the change in mindset for the Mustangs (18-6-1 overall) from the Tri-Peaks crossovers a week earlier. The boys were distracted and almost approached their game against Lamar like it was a surefire win.

After beating Montezuma-Cortez 3-0 earlier that afternoon, they went into the regional championship game knowing that they were in for a fight.

And they even did it without two starters, as Raymond McCaskey and Tate Christian were both battling injuries.

“This team has to feel confident that it can make things happen even with their backs against the wall,” coach Brandon DeMatto said. “It’s phenomenal that moving into state weekend that we can battle through some difficult circumstances.”

Even more than that, they’re moving into state weekend knowing that they have some young guys who can come through when put in difficult spots.

With McCaskey out of the lineup, Martinez was moved to centerfield and batted in the leadoff position. He fielded everything that came his way and batted .333 between the two games.

When things got dicey against Lamar late in the game, DeMatto brought him in to pitch, hoping he could battle through the final 2.1 innings to get Manitou the win. He gave up one hit, no runs and struck out two Lamar hitters.

“I loved it,” Martinez said. “Being a freshman and getting the opportunity to do that and take my team to the state tournament is definitely nerve-racking. If I make a mistake, I let down my seniors and my team.

“But I was so excited and so happy I was able to do that for my team. It was amazing.”

The Mustangs are back in the state tournament for the first time since reaching the state championship game in 2016. They’ll begin play against University at 9 a.m. Friday, May 27, at Butch Butler Field in Greeley.

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