Bailey Klitzke catches on quickly.
The Desert Ridge softball team hasn’t qualified for the postseason in three years and has been perfectly mediocre with 84 wins, 85 losses and two ties since 2008.
Although the Jaguars players realize their past history, they made a decision this year to ignore it.
The motto: Fake it until you make it.
“I preach that to the girls,” coach Jen Broderick said. “Nobody else knows but yourself, so if you act (confident) they won’t know any different. If you think you’re the best and act like the best, you perform like the best.”
So there was Klitzke, listening to Broderick speak about one of the freshman pitcher’s recent performances.
Desert Ridge faced off with Poston Butte in a night game at the school on March 28. The baseball team had returned from Dobson and looked on, while the later start gave more parents time to catch the action.
“She was nervous the first three innings, and you could tell,” Broderick said. “She got wild. But after that she was lights-out, and I think we ended up run-ruling Poston Butte that game. It took her awhile to get used to the bright lights, the people, but she did great.”
Deep down, maybe the crowd did make Klitzke a little nervous. But that’s not this year’s motto, now is it?
“I wasn’t nervous,” Klitzke said. “I was just too amped up.”
The bravado has served Desert Ridge well. The Jaguars are 14-8 overall entering Friday and a near-lock to make the playoffs (No. 13 seed in Div. I as of Friday) with six games remaining and 24 teams who’ll make the postseason). While the team’s power points record is just 6-5, it’s come against the toughest schedule in Division I, based on the power rankings.
The most impressive part has been the performance against elite competition. Desert Ridge faced three-time defending champion Red Mountain in its first power points game of the year and pulled out a 3-2 victory. On April 3, the Jaguars did it again, knocking off the Mountain Lions, 13-7. It’s the first time since 2007 that an East Valley team has beaten Red Mountain twice in one season.
“No, no,” senior shortstop Jackie Hernandez said. “Well, maybe the first (win).”
Besides the Lions, Basha has a pair of state titles and two runner-up finishes in the past five years. But on April 5, Desert Ridge led the Bears, 1-0, heading into the bottom of the seventh before losing by a run.
“I’m not afraid of Basha and Red Mountain,” Klitzke said. “I know we can take them down. You pitch to get outs. Whether it’s Poston Butte or Basha, you’re there to win.”
The Jaguars have been swept by both Mountain View and Gilbert this season, so they’re not considered among the elite quite yet.
Broderick said she hasn’t even looked at the power point standings, but Desert Ridge isn’t likely to finish in the top-8 to earn a first-round bye without a very strong finish. By this point, though, opponents cannot take the Jaguars lightly.
“People look down to us at Desert Ridge, but compared to the last four years I’ve been on varsity, it’s changed a lot,” senior third baseman Alyssa Sanchez said. “We’re here to play, not mess around.”
The goal for Desert Ridge this season was to simply make the state tournament.
However, now that it seems likely, Broderick said she’ll revamp goals once it becomes official.
Once they get there, maybe the magic will continue and the Jaguars will make a nice run. Then again, maybe the more traditionally dominant teams will lean on their experience and snuff out Desert Ridge easily.
While the results will play out next month, there is no questioning the team’s mentality. If Desert Ridge feels overmatched, the opponent’s never going to know it.
Fake it until you make it.
“They’re not going to fold under pressure,” Broderick said.