How the mighty have fallen.
The mystique around Mesquite has evaporated this season after losing a 1-run nail biter to Salpointe Catholic in the championship just the year prior.
Mesquite finished 28-5 last season, while being ranked second in the state to 6A champion Hamilton.
So, how in one off-season did Mesquite go from a dominant juggernaut to a non-threatening team?
The answer can be attributed to the departure of many talented seniors. With right-handed pitcher Davis Heller committing to South Mountain Community College, first baseman TJ Clarkson committing to Utah, and outfielder Jacob Anderson going to Iowa among many others.
Mesquite lost 12 seniors from the 19 total on the roster. When losing that many quality players in one year, it's easy to lose your luster.
“Everybody expects us to lose. They [opponents] look at their schedule and put a ‘W’ next to our name anytime they see it,” said coach Jeff Holland
With everyone doubting the Wildcats, they’re embracing the underdog mentality. They like the feeling of being underrated because it makes them even more motivated to leave no doubt on the scoreboard.
“We try to turn a head and prove everybody wrong. We keep our foot on the gas pedal and once we get them down we don’t let them up,” said shortstop Thomas Vogiatzis.
To play to the level the Wildcats envision, they can’t do it alone on their raw talent like they might have leaned on before. They have to do the little things that turn teams from winners to champions. “We have to play scrappy. Make the routine plays, get base hits, get timely hitting, just play the game the right way,” Vogiatzis said.
Through the first month of baseball, the hitting hasn’t been coming in as frequently as Holland would like to see.
He believes his team has the pitching to keep them in ballgames but needs the offense to pick it up. With this year’s team earned run average (ERA) being lower than last season’s, the numbers agree.
One player who has not struggled offensively to start the year is outfielder Keeton Bell.
In Bell’s first 17 at-bats of the season, he had 9 hits with 4 RBI and 7 runs scored.
When asked about his early season success and how it played a role in the team’s record, Bell couldn’t help himself from giving all the praise to his teammates
“I think everyone has stepped up this year. Everyone has had a big role in our success to start the season and we gotta keep going,” Bell said.
The line ‘Gotta keep going’ is a small microcosm into the philosophy at Mesquite High School as a whole.
Holland said in all the years he has been at Mesquite the culture hasn’t changed. From the classroom to the field, it’s about doing everything with integrity and a student’s complete commitment if they want to see desired results.
The same was true with the baseball team because even though they lost a lot of talent and experience, the process wasn’t going to change.
How they hold themselves and prepare one another for each game wasn’t going to change. The only thing that changes are the players in the locker room. Not the spirit or philosophy of the team.
When seeing almost all your top players move on to the next phase of their life, Mesquite has a saying to remind themselves it’s about the team and not the individual.
“Tradition never graduates.”