What a difference a year makes.
Class 3A Higley, in its second year of athletics, pulled out a late-inning victory over Class 4A Desert Ridge, in its first season of existence, in Wednesday's non-region meeting at Higley. Higley coach Joe Walters couldn't see that happening a year ago.
"Last year we would have lost this game," Walters said of the 5-4 win that was clinched in the bottom of the seventh on Jake DeLacerda's bases-loaded line-drive single.
Desert Ridge coach Pat Herrera, the first baseball coach at the school, has 15 underclassmen on his 17-man roster. Yet, he brought his Jaguars into the contest on a three-game winning streak after four losses to start the program.
Despite the recent hot streak, Herrera and the Jaguars know that every game they play this season will be an uphill battle.
"Basically, what we have is a team trying to compete at the varsity level as freshmen and sophomores," Herrera said. "It's a brand-new school with a brand-new coach. They're trying to learn my philosophy.
"When you're starting three or four freshmen a game, it can be a learning experience. It's very exciting and frustrating at the same time. We demand a lot out of our players and they're responding."
Along with the experience deficit, the Jaguars will also play out the season knowing that there is no shot of postseason play. The Jaguars are playing as an independent with no affiliation to a conference. Next season, Desert Ridge will join the 4A East Sky Region for two years. Herrera expects to be moved to Class 5A after that.
Herrera has quality players at Desert Ridge. Sophomore pitchers Cody Pride and Joe Cerio, Herrera believes, could have played at the varsity level at other schools. Several players came to Desert Ridge to get a jump on varsity play, but Herrera thinks he was hurt when postseason play was not allowed for baseball, a rule that did not apply for other sports at the school, such as wrestling.
"Playing as an independent turned some kids off," said Herrera, a former player at Grand Canyon University and an assistant under Gilbert High School coach Bob Everett. "And I'm not happy about not being able to play in the postseason."
Walters is just happy that he has the first year under his belt.
"In the second year, when you get in games that are tight and games that you have to make plays, you actually find a way to make them," Walters said. "So, you win the close games because you're able to do the little things. The guys have the emotional maturity and experience. "You win the close games because you find out how to win games."
Desert Ridge will get there, but Pride took the loss Wednesday after entering the game for starter Ryan Brown in the sixth. Higley's Jason Rayls (2-0) picked up the win in relief.