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High school baseball: Cottonwood star pitcher Tevita Gerber continues to raise the bar as he prepares for UNLV

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s been said that baseball is a sport based on intellectual stability and mental toughness. If that’s the case, then Cottonwood star pitcher Tevita Gerber has hit the jackpot.

From hurling touchdowns on the gridiron to painting the corners of home plate pitch after pitch, Gerber's unwavering ability to remain calm and perform at an elite level in high-pressure situations has propelled him to the top of his game.

“When you’re pitching, you have control over the game. I played quarterback too, and I love to have the pressure situation where I can deal with it myself and carry the team on my back. I love to be in those big-time situations where a big play is needed," said Gerber.

The southpaw ace has had an outstanding 2015 season so far — the best of his high-school career — as more than 50 percent of his wins have been shutouts.

Gerber has a career-low ERA (1.10), has tallied career-high 85 strikeouts and has walked just 14 batters in 44.2 innings of work. In addition to four of his seven wins being shutouts, he has also strung together a 7-1 record on the hill to keep his team's state championship aspirations alive and well.

"He's really pounding the strike zone, and he always finishes hitters off," the Colts' head coach Jason Crawford said.

However, senior's clutch play and domination on the mound aren't the only things he brings to the table.

After three years of watching a designated hitter constantly take his spot in the batting lineup, Gerber determination to become a solid hitter that his team could count on was noticed by the coaching staff and helped him earn a consistent spot in the Colts’ batting lineup. He wasn't about to let his long-awaited chance to get consistent at-bats slip away once again and has done everything he can to ensure it won't.

He has really seemed to find his stroke at the plate and has racked up 16 hits so far this season, seven of which went for extra bases (five doubles, one triple and one home run), and has tallied 12 RBIs.

“Prior to this year, we had a lot of guys who could do the same thing as me, so the coaches just mainly used me for pitching," Gerber said. "This year, he (Crawford) gave me a shot to hit, and I started getting some really good base knocks. I was finally able to come through for us at the plate.”

Despite all of his triumphs, success hasn't always come so easily for Gerber.

During his freshman and sophomore years, he really struggled to find his groove on the mound as he averaged a career-worst 3.92 ERA with a losing record of 6-8.

“I didn’t get a lot of looks in my freshman year. So I really had to work twice as hard and sacrifice a lot in order to prove myself and get to where I am today,” said Gerber.

When Gerber first came to Cottonwood, it wasn't long before the Colts' varsity coaching staff recognized the freshman pitcher's raw talent and passion for the game, and gave the young lefty his first chance on the mound.

“For them to throw me in, being such a young kid with no experience, it really showed me that they believed in me. That honestly gave me the confidence to get the job done," he said.

And that’s exactly what he did from there on out.

After sacrificing his entire summer to train and perfect his mechanics and delivery for his junior season, Gerber strolled out to the mound with his newfound confidence and raised the bar. He racked up 65 strikeouts — more than he had in his first two seasons combined — and only gave up 22 walks in 49 innings.

Gerber didn’t stop there, however, as he dropped his ERA (2.52) from the previous year to 1.71 in 2014. He also pitched his first shutout of his career and finished with a 7-2 record to end the season with a sense of accomplishment and success.

“He’s definitely the best pitcher I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach," Crawford said.

Once his junior year concluded, Gerber was faced with a daunting decision that would change his life forever.

Following his breakout 2014 season, he was offered a full-ride athletic scholarship to play baseball at UNLV and knew the time had come where he’d be forced to choose between the two sports that he loved and played significant roles in his life — football and baseball.

“It was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I’d been playing football for as long as I’d been playing baseball. There’s nothing like being out there on Friday nights under the lights with all the attention on you," Gerber said. "It’s unexplainable. Once I accepted my scholarship to UNLV, I decided I had to hang it (football) up. I thought, I might as well stay as healthy as I can to keep my scholarship."

Although bittersweet, with football no longer a part of his life, Gerber was finally able to focus all of his energy and attention on baseball and fine-tune his mechanics.

“The mechanics are completely different between a QB and pitcher. It’s different arm angles and different releases, so it helped me a lot just sticking to baseball,” Gerber said.

His heartbreaking decision to quit football seems to have paid off in his senior season as he continues to improve his numbers every year.

After losing in the first-round to Bingham in the 2014 5A playoffs, Gerber’s main goal and focus is leading his team to a 5A state championship and making his mark before heading to Las Vegas.

The Colts have exceptional talent and depth and couldn’t have put themselves in a better position heading into the playoffs. With only three regular-season games remaining, Cottonwood sits comfortably atop Region 2 with an 11-1 region record and lost just two games all year (20-2).

“We just need to take it one game at a time. Last year we got a little bit ahead of ourselves and expected too much too early," the senior said. "I think we can do a lot of great things, if everything is clicking like it has been. I have plenty of confidence in my team's ability to get to the state championship."

Only time will tell whether or not Gerber will fittingly cap off his high-school career with a state title. Regardless of what happens, it will most definitely not be the end of the road for the soon-to-be Rebel.

“(UNLV) Coach (Tim) Chambers really made me feel like it was my second home. He welcomed me in my freshman year and had been recruiting me ever since," he said. "He got me acquainted with the coaches and all the players and really just made it a home-like atmosphere. He really pushes his players to become better — just like here at Cottonwood. I’m really looking forward to the experience.”

Gerber is eager to take on the challenges that lie ahead. His strategy is to find a role he fits into and that will help the team become more successful.

Between school, football, his extensive baseball workload and all the pressure that came with being highly recruited, Gerber still managed to earn a GPA that keeps him on the honor roll.

“I focus on my academics just as much, if not more than my athletics. Sports can only last so long, but your mind lasts forever," he said.

Gerber was fortunate enough to have a loving and supportive family that was willing to go the distance with him. From attending nearly all of his games to doing anything that will help their son, Gerber’s parents, Dave and Jody, made it possible for him to live up to his full potential and capitalize on every opportunity that came his way.

“My parents were the ones who were constantly reminding me what’s really important in life," Gerber said. "They encourage me to always give it my all and they bring me back up when I’m down. They are my start and ending."

Tara Reid was born and raised in Murray, Utah, and is a full-time student at the University of Utah studying communication and business.