The Regina baseball team was rolling.
Under first-year coach Jeff Pacha, the Regals began the season 7-1, seemingly not bothered by returning just four seniors from a team that advanced to the state tournament in 2014.
Then the regression happened.
Regina lost seven in a row, including two to Bettendorf and being outscored 21-5 in a doubleheader loss to fellow Iowa City schools City High and West High. Since then, the Regals (14-14) have not won or lost more than two games in a row.
Now in the postseason, Regina hopes to return to its contending ways like many times before in program history. After defeating West Branch 6-5 Tuesday, Pacha’s club will play West Burlington (20-8) in a district final at 7 p.m. Saturday in Wellman.
“These are some good teams and it doesn’t always show with your record,” Pacha said. “In order for us to succeed, we have to get back to the basics. We have to stay focused. We have to come out and throw strikes and keep the bats going offensively.”
Despite a roster that sticks out with five freshman and three sophomores, those four senior returners have anchored this bunch.
Payton Raso is the headliner, leading the starting rotation and playing center field when he’s not on the mound. The Illinois-Springfield-bound player pitched a complete game Tuesday over West Branch and is 6-0 on the season.
Jacob Gahan has split time between catcher, first base and designated hitter, while Zach Galindo has played every contest this summer at shortstop. Then there’s Luke Gallagher, who has mostly played first base when he’s not pitching.
“We had a pretty big struggle in the middle of the season, but we kept fighting and kept coming to practice and getting better,” Gallagher said. “Just battled through it.”
Gallagher is hitting at a .354 clip with a home run and team-leading 11 doubles and 24 RBI. In seven appearances on the mound, Gallagher is 1-2 with a 6.82 ERA in 252/3innings. He’s walked 19 and struck out 26. Despite the underwhelming win-loss mark and ERA, he is holding opponents to a .236 batting average.
Gallagher will toe the rubber Saturday in the district final.
“At the plate, Luke’s been a workhorse,” Pacha said. “He’s a guy who’s always had the ability. The one thing we had to work on with him was the approach. We’ve done a really good job this year of getting guys on for him. He’s up there in a lot of RBI situations.”
Raso has known his senior counterpart for a while having lived “just down the street” from Gallagher growing up.
Gallagher pacing the team, notably offensively, boosts the Regals. He went 1-for-3 with an RBI double in the district semifinal victory Tuesday.
“It’s big having his bat in the lineup, especially when I’m on the mound,” Raso said. “I always know that if I do make a mistake, he’s right behind me and we can get it back. He’ll pick me up.”
Pacha is optimistic for Gallagher in the district final, considering the competition the right-handed hurler faced earlier in the season.
“He’s done a great job for us on the mound,” Pacha said. “He’s gone up against some tough teams in Wilton and West High. The success doesn’t show in wins or losses, but he’s giving us a chance every time. He’s competitive. He can command two pitches. As a senior, we rally behind him and I think we’re ready to make a run at this thing.”
Reach Matt Cozzi at email@example.com or 319-887-5409 and follow him on Twitter at @matt_cozzi.