Mesquite baseball playing rare underdog role late in season

Apr. 17—It's been an uncharacteristic season by Mesquite's terms for the Wildcat baseball program this spring.

They started hot early in the season, beating teams in tournament games and non-region foes. However, as they entered the meat of their schedule, the region play games, Mesquite has found itself in a bit of a slump nearing the final month of the season.

Yet, the players and Head Coach Jeff Holland don't feel there is any need to panic. They know baseball is a game meant for teams to get hot at the right time.

"It's baseball," Holland said. "You have to take the good with the bad. The only way to get out of a slump is keep on playing."

The season appeared to start off like any other for Mesquite, a program that has been to five state titles in its history, winning two of them.

The Wildcats started 13-4 through their first 17 games, beating the likes Desert Vista twice, Arizona College Prep and ALA Gilbert North, all teams that have the potential to make deep runs in their respective conference tournaments in May.

Then things went south in a hurry.

Mesquite fell to Seton Catholic, which has become a rival of sorts, in back-to-back games. The Wildcats then lost to Campo Verde, followed by two straight against Saguaro, the top-ranked team in the 4A Conference.

Pitching hasn't been of concern for the Wildcats. Holland believes that staff has been keeping them in games. Rather, it's been their lack of offensive production at times and inability to climb out of a hole after giving up one big inning that's been the team's Achilles heal.

"We kinda had a lot of hiccups defensively, which is uncharacteristic for us," Holland said. "Our pitching staff has kept us in every game, we've just had one inning here, one inning there. It's really uncharacteristic for Mesquite baseball.

"But you gotta ride the storm out. Eventually it's going to stop raining."

The slump has forced leaders to step up and make sure the team doesn't get to down on themselves. Senior Josh Lucero and junior Noah Forney have taken the lead with that.

The two have the highest batting average on the team this season, with Lucero at .403 and Forney .383. They've combined for 29 RBIs this season. Kash Rogers, another junior, is just behind with a .358 average with 14 RBIs.

Lucero and Forney both know the standard for Mesquite baseball. Holland expects a winning culture. That mindset has helped Mesquite become the power it is in 4A.

That hasn't gone away this season, despite the struggles they've had. They're confident they can get things turned around in due time.

"Only way to bounce back right now is swing at the fast balls," Lucero said. "Just be confident. We're a bunch of guys who know how to play the game. We have to stick to our plan and be who we are."

Just as even the best teams can lose on any given day in baseball, struggling teams can get hot at any time.

The schedule eases up a bit for Mesquite down the stretch. The Wildcats face Gilbert and Marcos de Niza twice to end the season.

That gives Mesquite a handful of winnable games to regroup heading into the postseason. But players also know there is little room for error sitting at No. 15 in the 4A rankings. A slip up or two down the stretch could prove to be costly.

But for now, they're choosing not to look at the rankings and embrace an underdog role.

"It'd be nice to be in the top eight but it's whatever," Forney said. "The other teams just have to watch their backs. You can't overlook every team. Anything can happen on any given day. It's baseball."

It's not often Mesquite is overlooked this late in the season. But just like his players, Holland enjoys it.

It brings a new challenge, and most importantly, the opportunity to play the role of spoiler. His teams in year's past haven't had opportunities like that. And even with a group that lacks the star power of other teams, as Holland puts it, he will take them over any other group in the state.

"All I ask is they compete for seven innings," Holland said. "I feel if we get in, we've got a good shot. They've all been battle tested. I like our chances, I really do."

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira.