Red Mountain’s goal for the 2022 baseball season was to test itself in non-region play.
It’s safe to say the Mountain Lions did just that.
They took part in several mid-season tournaments, at one time traveling out of state to California where they saw a new level of talent with Division I players scattered across the field on every team. They were tired at times from the gauntlet of a schedule. There were times where they didn’t play like themselves.
But head coach Rob Gorrell knew that would be the case and to this point, he’s proud of the way his players responded to the adversity.
“We didn’t get off to the greatest start, but we were able to see some really good competition and we figured it would get us rolling a little bit in the end,” Gorrell said. “It was frustrating at the start, but I think it’s paid off.”
Red Mountain has quickly become a power in the East Valley. Similar to conference foe Hamilton, one of the top-ranked teams in the state and country on a yearly basis, the Mountain Lions’ roster boasts a slew of next-level players.
There are currently six Division I recruits in Red Mountain’s baseball program. A handful more plan to go the junior college route. Many of them have watched each other grow up, playing alongside them on the same club team for many years.
The familiarity among the players, especially those in this year’s senior class, allowed them to come together mid-season when the team was struggling at the plate. TJ Adams, a senior outfielder and University of Arizona signee, said that was the turning point for the program.
They flipped a metaphorical switch and since then have been raking at the plate.
“We had a meeting a couple weeks ago and we were figuring out what we needed to do better,” Adams said. “Our mantra is 1-0 on the day. Once we realized what we needed to work on, we worked on it. We told ourselves to go 1-0 every day and that helped.”
The Mountain Lions opened the season with a win over Shadow Ridge before going eight innings against Hamilton in a one-run loss. They followed it up with a win over Brophy before going to California for an invitational.
It was there Red Mountain saw perhaps some of the best arms all season. The Mountain Lions played and lost to the likes of California power Mater Dei, Santa Margarita and Temecula Valley. They capped off the tournament with a win over Poudre, a team out of Fort Collins, Colo.
When Red Mountain returned to Arizona, it immediately began play in the Boras Classic, which featured Hamilton and national powers Bishop Gorman and Reno, the latter of which won the tournament.
The Mountain Lions struggled to find power at the plate in their two opening losses to Tucson and Mountain Ridge. But finally, against Arcadia, they began to play up to their own standards set earlier in the season.
“The fact that we were losing got under our skin a little bit and we were frustrated,” senior infielder Mitch Namie said. “We knew we had to turn it up. At the end of the day, I think those losses were good for us.
“We realized we had to come out and compete. It made us better.”
Since the loss to Mountain Ridge on March 17 in Boras, the Mountain Lions have gone 14-2. Their only two losses came against rival Mountain View in a series split and No. 5 O’Connor.
During that stretch of games Red Mountain outscored opponents 154-35. Finally, the run support for ace pitcher Mason Kelley and the rest of the pitching staff Gorrell had been searching for all season came along.
Now the Mountain Lions hope to continue carrying that momentum with them through their final stretch of games before the postseason, where they will likely lock up a top four seed.
“We haven’t given him run support all year,” Gorrell said of Kelley. “To give him that, he’s been the backbone and has weathered the storm against some of those top teams. He has helped us get some of these other guys going offensively. With all of that, we can be a little dangerous.”
The mindset all year for Red Mountain has revolved around going 1-0 every day. The players and coaching staff don’t like to look too far ahead.
But they know they’re on the verge of a potentially special season. Especially for those who have played together since a young age, winning a state title has been a dream of theirs for as long as they can remember.
Now, it’s all about execution and getting the right pieces healthy enough to put themselves in position to do just that.
“It would be nice if we had another pitcher healthy,” Gorrell said. “Pitching can carry you in (the postseason). Our offense has come on lately. If we can keep it going, we’ve got a shot if we keep swinging the bats like that.”