It’s not often that a leader of a high school sports team is an underclassmen. That was the case for the Durango High School baseball team this spring.
DHS sophomore Gage Mestas shined in his second season of varsity sports for the Demons, as he played a key role in the football team’s success in the fall and served as the ace pitcher, leadoff hitter and starting shortstop for the baseball team. His contributions to the Demons led him to be named The Durango Herald Boys Underclassmen of the Year for the 2018-19 school year.
“I love being a leader, and I feel I have to be a leader,” Mestas said. “Our team is always looking for a few leaders to step out and make plays and guide the team into a positive direction. I always want to be that kind of person. Being an underclassman and wanting to lead the upperclassmen, it’s definitely a struggle at first to gain that respect and trust. Once you have that, it all comes together in a special way. It was very cool.”
Mestas, son of Gary and Malaika Mestas, helped the Demons turn around their baseball season. Though the team finished with a 9-14 overall record, the late surge by Durango got them into the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 4A regional tournament, and Mestas pitched in the season-ending 12-5 loss to Palisade.
Mestas started all 23 games for the Demons this year. He hit for a .338 batting average out of the leadoff spot and led the team with 28 runs scored. He had seven runs batted in and four doubles. In 74 plate appearances, he struck out only 20 times and drew 15 walks and was hit by six pitches. He had a team-best .484 on-base percentage. He also led Durango with nine stolen bases.
From his shortstop position, Mestas committed only three errors. He had a team-best 25 fielding assists and helped turn two double plays.
“He’s the most talented athlete and baseball player on the field,” DHS head coach Eric Baker said, noting Mestas brings a quiet intensity to the field every day. “He was kind of the catalyst for the team. He drove our offense, and he made some plays defensively that were the kind of stuff that just make you wonder how it was that he got to the ball and how did he make that play.
“He was the most dominant pitcher we had for most of the season, too.”
On the mound, he finished with a 4.37 earned-run average, tops among DHS starting pitchers. In 49 2/3 innings of work, he struck out 60 batters to 23 walks. He was never better than April 12 at home against Glenwood Springs in a 4-0 win in which he threw a shutout. He allowed only one hit and struck out 16 batters with one walk across the seven innings of work.
“I just remember throwing strikes,” Mestas said. “It built a lot of confidence for me. After that game, I trusted my pitches much more. Early in the season, I wasn’t trusting my pitches. I hit the bullpen a lot, listened to my coaches, did the practice and found a good place, and it showed in that game.”
Mestas began to make his presence felt in the fall football season, too. The Demons went 6-5 and reached the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs. He led the team with 31 receptions that he turned into 301 yards and three touchdowns. He really emerged in the second half of the season when injuries mounted for other DHS receivers, and his longtime chemistry with sophomore quarterback Jordan Woolverton was on display.
“Jordan and I are on a different level together,” Mestas said. “The bond is unmatchable. Once we have our groove going, it’s amazing. We’re really tight, and we both love the game, and we try to take everything to a higher standard.
“From YAFL to middle school and winning championships, we brought a lot of confidence with us to high school. We know we have the ability and just trust each other to play the game how we do and have fun.”
He had an even greater impact on special teams as a return man, with several long returns to set up scores and a return touchdown of his own.
“Just like his brother (Gavin), he is a phenomenal athlete,” DHS football coach David Vogt said. “Every time he touches the ball, he has a chance to score. We really saw that on his punt and kick return aspect of the game. You can take the game with plays like that.”
This summer, Mestas will play club baseball with the Albuquerque Baseball Academy and also with the 4-C ClubSox of Farmington with hopes of playing in the Connie Mack World Series. The exposure will help Mestas gain the attention of scouts. His dream is to play Division I college baseball. If not, he plans to play in junior college to continue to chase his Division I dream. Whether he’s on the mound, at shortstop or in the batter’s box, Mestas will be a man to watch in coming years.
“If you’re a pitcher, you’re leading the team. At shortstop, you’re still a leader on the team. Those positions, they’re a great spot to be in,” he said.
Editor’s note: The Durango Herald selected high school sports players of the year based on a unanimous decision between sports editor John Livingston and sports writer Brendan Ploen. Increased consideration was given to multi-sport athletes who showed leadership in their communities.