Mesquite sophomore TJ Clarkson cleared the bases in the bottom of the fifth inning with a towering two-run triple that gave the Wildcats the lead for good as they defeated Desert Ridge, 6-3, at Mesquite High School in Gilbert on Friday night.
Freshman outfielder Ethan Long added one more in the three-run fifth inning with his third hit of the night, a double that extended the Wildcats’ lead to 3-1 through five.
Before the bats exploded for the Wildcats (4-0 overall, 2-0 conference), it was senior southpaw KC McCormick who held the Jaguars in check for five and one-third innings. McCormick picked up his first win of the season on the bump, tallying eight strikeouts while only allowing three hits. Mesquite skipper Jeff Holland said he pulled his senior after he reached his pitch count in the sixth inning.
“We still want to get that pitch count down so he can finish a full game,” Holland said. “But he was effective, he had nice velo (velocity) and he went deep in the game, which was what we wanted.”
McCormick controlled both sides of the plate Friday night with a mixture of pitches and retired the first nine Jaguars he faced. In the top of the fourth inning, the southpaw had to get a little creative after Desert Ridge’s Stephan Gomez reached first base on a single.
“I knew he was leaning a bit, so I wanted to try again,” McCormick said. “Then I got him, so I knew I was going to pick him off.”
Although the 6-foot lefty only allowed three hits, the Jaguars pushed the first run of the ball game across the plate in the top of the fourth inning.
Desert Ridge junior Nick Labella reached on a walk and advanced to second on a McCormick balk. The 5-11 infielder came around to score on a Matt Shaw single. It was the only run that McCormick conceded all night, and Desert Ridge skipper Joe Bergen admired his perseverance.
“He just kept fighting,” Bergen said. “When he had to put the ball in the zone, he did. He just kept battling and battling.”
One night after driving in the game-winning run against Desert Edge, Clarkson played hero for the Wildcats once again Friday night. The 6-foot 4-inch sophomore has done it all for the Wildcats so far into their 2017 campaign, hitting for an average of .412 before Friday’s contest with seven hits and five RBIs. Clarkson has also done it on the mound for the Wildcats, throwing five innings against Red Mountain while only allowing one hit earlier this season.
“He’s very mature for a sophomore, I’m very excited, I got two more years with the kid.”
Clarkson hasn’t seen his performance as anything special so far. He said he’s just trying to help his team win.
“I am just trying to hit the ball hard and do my job,” Clarkson said.
The Wildcats improve to 4-0 on the season and are set to play Ironwood Ridge on March 7 in Tucson.
Desert Ridge fell to 1-2 in their 2017 campaign and will take on Red Mountain on March 7 at home.
– Macafee is a sports journalism student at Arizona State.