The beard grows. And grows.
Sporting a hearty thatch at the end of his chin that seemingly stretches past his sternum and would surely make him a fill-in favorite for ZZ Top, Brad Gunter Jr. has no intention to shave. Not with this momentum.
Guner Jr. rejoiced in another championship Monday, his Valley Christian High School baseball team winning the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII championship with a gritty 3-2 effort over Brookside Christian.
The Lions of Roseville three-peated at Sacramento City College under drizzly skies and won the program's fifth title in six seasons with six consecutive title appearances. In short, it's a dynasty with a coach known as "The Beard" at the helm. Gunter Jr. offered his beard as shelter from the rain after the game.
Jeremiah Moore struck out nine in tossing a five-hitter, and the Valley Christian junior ace had just enough production from his offense to defeat the Knights of Stockton (23-10).
Levi Haggerty scored on a wild pitch in the second inning for a 1-0 lead, Teagan Mowry had an RBI double in the third to make it 2-0 and Asher Hammargren walked with the bases loaded in the fourth to make it 3-1 for the Lions, who overcame illness and injury this season to celebrate yet again.
"They're a great group," Gunter Jr. said. "They're character kids more than anything. I worry more about that. The wins are the byproduct. When you don't have to worry about character, you can just coach baseball."
Valley Christian (20-12) was hammered by the flu and strep throat throughout the team's first 18 games, then endured all sorts of injuries while taking on a host of larger schools in nonleague play such as Oakmont, El Camino, Whitney and Pioneer.
The Lions lost to Elliott Christian of Lodi 7-3 in the opener of a best-of-3 playoff series before taking the series with 6-0 and 1-0 efforts, thanks to dominating pitching by Moore and co-ace Jimmy Shaw.
Moore and Shaw have yet to lose a playoff game in their careers. Shaw, a 6-foot-6 lefty, wanted to start Monday but was overruled by his coach. Gunter Jr. said Shaw has a live arm that needs some rest, his future too bright to push him.
"I've been holding him back all year, and why risk it?" Gunter Jr. said. "I know he wasn't too happy with me and probably his dad, too, but I have to worry about his future more than a game."
A year ago, Gunter Jr. was a fit of anxiety at this time of year. His father, Brad Gunter Sr., had been hospitalized with heart troubles. The founder of Valley Christian bounded off his hospital bed before the title game last May and proclaimed that he's not ready to go for good.
Gunter Sr. attended Monday's game, and afterward hugged every Lions player he could find. The old man, all grins and pride, is still mobile enough to corner a player to offer bear hugs and well wishes.
What added to the family feel for the Gunters was the role of Micah Gunter. He is the son of the coach, a sophomore starting shortstop who had a double and a walk against Brookside.
"I didn't think Dad was going to make it last year," Gunter Jr. said. "He's here. He's doing great. No idea how much he means to me. I was not in the same place mentally at this time last year. Very happy now. Talk about special. Dad's in the stands, and my son is on the field."
Valley Christian is a small school in enrollment only. It is big time in achievement - academics and athletically - and players cherish the titles just as much as those from larger schools. The Lions have also sent scores of players to the college ranks, with more headed there next season.
"We've got five or six guys playing in college next year and we had some scouts here today," Gunter Jr. said.
As for the beard, Gunter Jr. confessed to a trick. He applied dye to it in the morning, to keep it a robust red to match his hair.
"Just for Men, and comb it in, baby," Gunter Jr. cracked. "My wife (Megan) doesn't mind, so I'll keep it."
- Joe Davidson
- On Twitter: @SacBee_JoeD
- On Podcast: ESPN1320.net