Vista Ridge baseball coach, a 21-year-old Coronado graduate, to make debut against alma mater

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Photo - Coronado's pitcher Emilio Martinez (right) gives encouragement to his teammate Carter Gerber (left) as Gerber takes over the pitching in the 7th inning of a game against Mesa Ridge. Mesa Ridge defeated Coronado 9-8 at Mesa Ridge High School on Friday, May 2, 2014. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)
Coronado's pitcher Emilio Martinez (right) gives encouragement to his teammate Carter Gerber (left) as Gerber takes over the pitching in the 7th inning of a game against Mesa Ridge. Mesa Ridge defeated Coronado 9-8 at Mesa Ridge High School on Friday, May 2, 2014. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

Three seasons ago, Tanner Mayberry was among three freshmen to make the varsity baseball team at Coronado and, thanks to seniors like Carter Gerber, the Cougars came within one win of advancing to the 4A state tournament.

On Thursday, the Cougars senior, along with teammates Alex Bumpus and Joey Callen, will cross paths with Gerber for the first time since then.

Just not the way anyone imagined it.

Gerber, a 2014 Coronado grad, at 4 p.m. Thursday will make his high school coaching debut for Vista Ridge against, of all teams, his alma mater.

"It's going to be a little different seeing him on the other side, especially with a different school," Mayberry said. "I knew him pretty well back then, and he was a good leader on the team. He not only helped lead us to the playoffs, he knew a lot about the game. I could have seen him as a coach. Maybe not this early in his career, though."

At 21, Gerber might be the youngest varsity coach in the state, and at a 5A program nonetheless.

That certainly doesn't faze this coach.

"I think there's an advantage of being young," Gerber said. "You're more an older brother than a father figure. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that they understand that you know what you're talking about. If they buy in, then it becomes easier to buy into the winning tradition we're trying to build. I'm coming here to win."

The Wolves haven't won more than six games in a season since the program started in 2010 but have high hopes of soon not only competing with, but beating the big boys of the Pikes Peak Athletic Conference.

"In my opinion, this is the most talented Vista Ridge team we've had," Gerber said. "We had 61 kids show up to tryouts, and the more numbers you have, the more talent you get. We have a strong sophomore class and a good incoming freshman class, so there are lots of positives coming into the program."

Gerber went to Kankakee (Ill.) Community College and appeared in 15 games as a relief pitcher. By the end of the season, however, Gerber had been diagnosed with a partially torn ulner collateral ligament.

Facing Tommy John surgery and a long recovery process - he had an offer to be a preferred walk-on at Wichita State, contingent on redshirting a season - Gerber instead decided to return home, where he enrolled at UCCS to continue his pursuit of a finance degree and landed the job as Vista Ridge junior varsity coach under Bernie Moncallo.

When Moncallo took an assistant coaching job at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., after last season, the Vista Ridge job was open, and Gerber figured he was just as qualified as anyone.

Vista Ridge athletic director Sam Baldwin, who coached the baseball team for the 2014 season, agreed.

"Any time we interview people, he hire the best person for Vista Ridge," Baldwin said. "He was best for us. His attention to detail and overall passion for coaching impressed me the most. He's a young buck, but he's got the drive of being a former baseball guy. He may be 21, but he walks and talks like he's 40 years old with 20 years' experience."

On Thursday, Gerber gets his first taste of varsity baseball. The opponent is an odd twist.

"It's hard not to have red and gold in part of me, but I'm at Vista now," Gerber said. "I have a lot of great memories at Coronado, being a four-year starter with deep playoff runs, great teammates and great coaches. It's good to start my career against guys I once played with. They're friends and former teammates. I just hope they go 0 for 4 against us but by the end of the season will be all-state."