Romeo Ballesteros came down with the flu a day before a state playoff game last week against Casa Grande Vista Grande. The Salpointe Catholic senior infielder went to the doctor and was told he wouldn’t be feeling well for about five days.
The following day, Ballesteros went 2 for 4 with one RBI and scored one of the Lancers’ runs in a 3-2 victory over Vista Grande in the Class 4A baseball quarterfinals.
“I kind of just played my flu game,” Ballesteros said. “I didn’t let it affect me, but it went around. It got a lot of our starters, but I think we all persevered through it as a team and managed to get that win.”
Several Lancers players were hit by the flu last week and some are still getting over it.
No. 2 seed Salpointe Catholic will play sixth-seeded Vista Grande again — for the fourth time this season — in a 4A semifinal game on Wednesday at Amphitheater High School. With a win, Salpointe would advance to the championship game May 13 at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa. A Lancers loss would force a decisive Game 2.
Coach Danny Preble said the team did a good job of not letting any outside forces — in this case the flu — dictate last week’s game. But the coaches did have to step in to make sure those that were sick got the rest they needed.
“If we would let them, we would leave the lights on 24 hours a day and they would come out here and they would do something,” Preble said. “They just really enjoy being here. When it came to the sickness stuff, we made sure to monitor who was dealing with what and ‘stay home, go home, don’t come today,’ that way we can be as healthy as can be when it matters.”
The Lancers, who are heavily comprised of seniors, are no strangers to the postseason.
While the Lancers lost in the first round of the playoffs three years ago, they made it all the way to the title game two seasons ago and made it to the quarterfinals last year.
Nogales, the back-to-back state champ, ended both seasons for Salpointe. (The Apaches moved to 5A this year and will play a semifinal game of their own this week.)
Senior Jacob Hardy said that over the last few years, the Nogales games have become real “hype games” — the players couldn’t wait to play in the really competitive series.
“It definitely was heartbreaking to lose to them,” Hardy said. “They’re a great team, obviously, winning back-to-back state championships and everything that they’ve done. It definitely lit the fire for the rest of us to come out this year and show everyone what we’ve got now that they’re gone.”
Preble said he was upset about the season ending sooner than they would have liked, but it helped get the team motivated.
The team got together in June for its summer program and, once school started, hit the weight room for its lifting program in September.
“And a really good close knit group of seniors really brought everyone together,” Preble said. “I think they’re a really, really tight bunch of guys and it really shows in the way they play. It doesn’t matter if one’s on the field or one’s not on the field -they’re always playing for each other.”
While the Lancers are one win away from returning to the championship game, Preble said he’s not worried about it at this point. First they have to take care of the next task in front of them.
“One of the things we’ve been really preaching is it’s just another baseball game,” Preble said. “It’s no different than when they were 5 or 6 years old playing tee ball. You show up, you have fun, play the game as hard as you can and hopefully things come out for us in the end.”