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Householder, Garcia lead Hawks from the mound
They're both right-handers, they're both seniors and they both pitch for Gila Ridge. But the similarities essentially stop there for Ryan Householder and Steven Garcia.
Householder is tall, Garcia isn't. Householder throws hard, Garcia relies on being crafty. Not mention their contrasting personalities.
“Steven's loose as a goose all the time and always smiling,” Gila Ridge coach Greg Osowski said, “where Ryan tends to be a lot more serious and take things literal. They're opposites.”
Upon hearing his coach's assessment, Householder laughed and offered up his own analysis.
“I'm not always that tough,” he said. “I sometimes smile.”
If anyone has a read on his Garcia and Householder, it's Osowski. He's been the skipper of Gila Ridge's team since the school was established in the fall of 2007, building the program from the ground up. In four years' time, Osowski has guided the Hawks to the doorstep of the state playoffs for the first time in school history, relying on the arms of Garcia and Householder every step of the way.
“These kids I've had with me the whole time. In that regard, it's really special because we have been striving toward this. It's been so fun to watch them go from 14-year-old little babies to kids that do have the confidence and do step up and get the job done.”
Whereas Osowski knows his players well, it's also true the other way around. Asked to describe their coach, both broke into huge smiles — the kind of smiles reserved for a coach who teaches with a no-nonsense attitude.
“He's tough, but I know it's tough in a good way,” Garcia said. “He pushes us to reach our limits. He knows what we can do and that's why he counts on us a lot. We don't let this team down and it means a lot for us to pitch for this team.”
Entering this season, Osowski was merely hoping to compete with his Gila Valley Region foes. In the previous two seasons, Gila Ridge went a combined 8-26 in AIA games with a 3-17 conference record.
Despite Thursday's 9-6 loss to Cibola, the Hawks are in the hunt to host a first-round state playoff game with their 11-4 record. Entering the final week of regular-season play, Gila Ridge and Cibola are tied for second place in the GVR standings with their 6-2 records while Yuma High is 7-1.
After talking with Garcia and Householder, it's evident the magnitude of this season hasn't been lost.
“That'd be the best,” Garcia said. “Leave a mark here — being the first class to go all four years at Gila Ridge and to be the first ones to hopefully host a state game. It'd be everything.”
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that both Garcia and Householder have elevated their games to new levels this year. Householder, for example, fell five outs short of a perfect game on April 4 against Yuma High, which possesses one of the region's most potent lineups.
“Him and his dad have worked their tails off,” Osowski said. “It's not just Monday through Friday at 3 o'clock, it's been a yearlong process for him.”
Householder has also established himself as one of Gila Ridge's best hitters this year, as he usually occupies the No. 3 hole in the Hawks' lineup. Before the season, Householder signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Friends University, a four-year NAIA school in Wichita, Kan.
“It's fantastic,” Householder said. “Like one of the coaches told me, ‘Any baseball after high school is good baseball.' I was really happy to accomplish that goal.”
Garcia, meanwhile, said he will try to walk on the baseball team at Arizona Western College next year before trying to transfer to Arizona State University or Grand Canyon University.
But the duo isn't doing it alone on the mound for Gila Ridge. Freshman Victor Castro has emerged as another reliable option for Osowski this year, raising some eyebrows in the process.
“He pitches with heart but he has no emotion,” Garcia said. “He's not afraid to face anyone.”
After watching the Hawks practice this week, it's easy to see they're a loose bunch, from seniors like Garcia and Householder all the way down to freshmen like Marco Jaime. But it appears Osowski's ways have rubbed off on the pair of pitchers throughout their four years together.
“If some of our teammates are doing something wrong in practice, we're always the first ones to jump on them,” Householder said. “But in a good way, in a good way.”