Nazareth-Ira matchup features family affair in fight to state tournament

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Nazareth baseball coach Tyler Goodwin, left, and his father, Toby, who coaches at Ira, will square off in a Region I-1A finals series starting Friday with a trip to the state tournament on the line. [Provided photo]

No matter what happens in this weekend’s Class 1A best-of-three region final series between Nazareth and Ira, Coach Goodwin will take his team to the state tournament.

And no matter what else happens, Coach Goodwin will also see an undefeated season end and his team will be staying home.

Confused? That’s the kind of plot twist which happens when a father and son square off in a coaching matchup with a state tournament berth on the line.

Tyler Goodwin, the son, will lead Nazareth into the region final against his father Toby, Ira’s coach. Game one of the series is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday at Lubbock Cooper, with the second game slated for 5 p.m. Saturday in the same location.

Oh, and if there wasn’t already enough drama involved, both teams are undefeated. Even that, though, can’t overshadow the father-son aspect of this matchup.

“It’s going to be emotional, I’m sure,” Tyler Goodwin said. “Growing up you think I’m going to be a coach and coach with dad. You never think about playing him in the region finals to go to state. Going into this year we kind of saw this happening.”

Nazareth (18-0) went to the state tournament for the first-time last season and lost in the state semifinal. Coach Steven Moore left after the season, and Goodwin, who coached football, basketball and track at Littlefield, got his first baseball coaching job at Nazareth.

Goodwin has been perfect in his coaching debut, but the Swifts are only No. 2 in the state. The only team ahead of them: Ira (22-0), coached by Toby Goodwin.

The clash of the Goodwins might not have been inevitable, but it’s hardly unexpected.

“We felt when we saw the situation it was a real possibility with what both teams had,” Toby Goodwin said. “We talked about it and sure enough here we are.”

In Vegas, this series would likely have to be called a pick ’em when looking at the resumes of the two teams. On one hand, Nazareth hasn’t given up a run in the last six games and the Swifts have turned up things in the playoffs (beginning with a 20-0 win over Follett), outscoring their opponents by a combined 56-0, a margin reserved for the Globetrotters and Washington Generals.

Last week in the regional semifinals against Kress, the Swifts won their first game 3-0, as Trent Gerber pitched a no-hitter and struck out 14. Carson Heiman pitched a shutout in the second game, as Nazareth cruised to a 10-0 win to complete the sweep.

It appears as if the Swifts are peaking at the perfect time. Everything seems to have fallen into place for Tyler Goodwin in his first head coaching job.

“We had to fill some holes and guys were going to have to step up,” Goodwin said. “We’re 18-0 and we’re twice the baseball team right now as we were when we started. We’ve had guys change positions three or four times, changed our lineup often, just trying to find that right mix.

“As soon as we started the playoffs that first game against Follett we really found where we needed to be. It’s been fun the last few weeks.”

Unlike Nazareth, Ira has actually allowed some runs in the playoffs, but they seem almost trivial. Ira has outscored playoff opponents by a combined 81-2 through three rounds.

The senior Goodwin says going undefeated isn’t something that anyone can ever expect.

“I understand coaching as long as I have it’s extremely tough to do,” he said. “We’ve just had a midframe from early in the year of one team, one dream. We’ve got a good pitching staff and the pieces of a puzzle that fit really well. They understand and come and do their role.”

It would appear that father and son have been on a collision course from day one. But Tyler Goodwin needed to find out what he had with the Swifts he inherited and who he would put where.

“I knew it was going to be a challenge to get back to the big dance,” Goodwin said. “I went into it with an open mind. It’s been obviously a very successful season but we’ve seen tremendous strides in different types of kids.”

It didn’t hurt that one of those kids who returned was Gerber. The senior has answered the call all season both on the mound and at the plate.

Gerber has thrown two no-hitters this season and has a whopping 130 strikeouts in 60.2 innings with a microscopic 0.27 ERA. He’s been just as productive at the plate when playing shortstop, batting .418.

As big a contributor as Gerber has been to Nazareth’s success, he knew he couldn’t do it alone.

“We didn’t know how this season would start,” Gerber said. “We were losing so many starters. We had some people who had to step up and that’s exactly what they did. (Tyler Goodwin) jumped in and we kind of got used to his game plan and we just rolled with it.”

Heiman has emerged as a more than reliable No. 2 pitcher and catcher Luke Schulte and outfielder Tanner Birkenfeld have led the potent offense.

Prior to the opening of District 2-2A, the Swifts picked up where they left off, at least in terms of the win-loss column. That district is the combined 1A-2A format and includes Class 2A Clarendon, who’s still alive in the region semifinals.

In the first meeting of the season with Clarendon, Gerber pitched and Nazareth won 5-2. That provided the impetus for where the Swifts are now.

“We went through a stretch and played decent baseball and came through with wins,” Tyler Goodwin said. “I still had in the back of my mind, when is that moment going to be when I completely feel this is going to be a big thing. It was actually the second time we played Clarendon.

“They came to our place and I pitched Carson Heiman. We ended up winning that game 5-3. I really felt this is about to be fun.”

Fun is one thing, but going undefeated is another. Whether it’s superstition or taking the we-don’t-talk-about-fight-club approach, it’s literally worked out perfectly for the Swifts.

“I’ve talked two or three people about this, and the only time I ever talk about being undefeated is when I do an interview,” Goodwin said. “We just don’t talk about it. Being 18-0, that’s special and it’s something to take pride in, but it’s not something we say ‘Look at us.’ It doesn’t matter. Right now we’re 0-0.

“I don’t know that it really puts pressure on these kids just because of the attitude that we’ve had all year long about not worrying about that.”

Normally, the first thing people think about with Nazareth athletics is basketball considering the number of state championships the boys and girls teams have won. But with two straight trips to the state tournament if they beat Ira, the Swifts will be developing the same reputation in baseball.

Gerber, who like almost everybody else on the team also played basketball, thinks the connection between sports is natural.

“Everyone knows us from basketball, but baseball’s really stepped up these last two years and I think we’re starting to get a tradition there,” Gerber said. “We want to try to keep it rolling in every sport and get football along with it.”

“Going on all those long road trips you really get to know each other. You see how to communicate with each other and that also helps in baseball. It contributes to both sports and helps put it all together in the end.”

Yet, the school which will be best represented once the series starts is Ira. Tyler Goodwin is a 2014 Ira graduate, where Toby has coached for 24 years.

Tyler, however, isn’t going to be sentimental about the reunion with his alma mater or even his father.

“It’s one of those deals we’ve kind of always talked about but never publicly,” Tyler said. “Going in there against my alma mater is going to be special. I told (Toby) he better get ready because we’re coming after you.”

Ira will throw Jerek Pena in the first game. Pena, Brian Partain and Drew Porter are all hitting over .500 and lead a lineup which has been crushing opponents.

While Tyler and Toby won’t be torn over the series, the same can’t be said for the rest of the family, particularly Tyler’s mother and Toby’s wife Kristi.

“It’s going to be tough on her,” Toby said. “She actually woke up this week and said ‘I just wish it was Friday, I’m ready to get it over with.’ We’ll get through it.

“The very first thing I said to his mother when we won the other night was ‘One of us is going.’ From the family aspect what more can you ask for. One of us is playing in the state tournament.”

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