Red Mountain’s baseball program shined during the shortened preseason, opening the eyes of recruiters and competition for its talented lineup.
Eight Division I players make up the Mountain Lions’ roster this season, with more eager to prove they can play at the highest level. And while only a handful of games into the season, Red Mountain has already put much of its firepower at the plate on display.
“One through nine we have a good lineup and on any given day we can put it all together and score some runs,” Red Mountain baseball coach Rob Gorrell said. “But we know we are going to see a lot of aces. The runs might make it seem a little misleading but as we go through the year, I think we will be able to get some runs against some of those top guys.”
The Mountain Lions scored 53 runs through the first four games of the year, an astronomical number in baseball that equated to an average of over 13 runs per game. On two occasions Red Mountain scored 16 runs and has had three of its six games last all seven innings.
Red Mountain took its hot streak into a March 22 matchup with Hamilton, the favorite to win the 6A crown and contender for national champion after finishing at the top of the MaxPreps’ leaderboard last season despite the cancellation. Hamilton’s Brock Selvidge, an LSU commit, was on the mound for the Huskies and limited the Mountain Lions to just one hit through six innings.
After Selvidge was forced out due to pitch count, Red Mountain mustered two hits in the bottom of the seventh to knock off Hamilton 2-1. The lack of offensive display against one of the state’s best wasn’t a sign of weakness for the Mountain Lions. Rather, it was a sign they knew how to fight through adversity to win close games.
At the end of the day, that’s all that matters to the seniors on this year’s team.
“I don’t want to jinx anything, but I feel like we can make it pretty far,” Red Mountain senior pitcher RJ Elmore said. “If we just continue to find ways to win, I think we can be really good.”
Elmore, a Grand Canyon commit, has been key on the mound for Red Mountain to start the year. As the team’s ace, he helped limit Hamilton’s high-powered offense to six hits and no earned runs. Overall, he hasn’t allowed an earned run this season in 16 innings as of Thursday, March 25, and has 15 total strikeouts.
He credits much of his success to senior catcher Ryan Campos, who has been behind the play for them since their youth baseball days. The two have developed a chemistry with one another that goes beyond friendship. They’re two of the leaders on defense for the Mountain Lions, and their chemistry has begun to spread to the rest of the team.
“We try to include everyone on the team,” Elmore said. “We want everyone to feel welcome and it’s showed so far. Everyone has a good energy throughout the game and giving each other high fives. That can go a long way.”
Along with his role on behind the plate, Campos has made an impact in front of it, too.
The University of Arizona commit has been one of Red Mountain’s big bats this season, recording 4 RBIs and a home run through six games so far this season. Part of his drive for success this season stems from last year’s cancellation. He watched as his senior teammates were brought to tears when the season was cut short due to the pandemic. He went on to play summer and fall club ball but admits there is nothing quite like representing his school.
“There’s just something about high school, it’s just different,” Campos said. “It gets your blood going in a different way. I missed it.”
He feared the season would once again be canceled when the Arizona Interscholastic Association initially canceled the winter season. But once the decision was reversed just days later, he realized he had to make the most of his senior year.
After all, he still knows it can be taken away due to circumstances related to the pandemic.
“We were really worried we wouldn’t have a senior season,” Campos said. “But now that we are out here, we have to do our best and make the most of it. It’s awesome to be able to be out here.”
Since its hot start, Red Mountain's offense has become more tame. However, it has still equated to wins. The Mountain Lions currently sit at 6-2 on the year with losses to Skyline and Corona del Sol, both by a combined two runs. They still remain at No. 2 overall in the East Valley Region standings, and remain among the top teams in the 6A Conference.
While shortened, the season remains long with some room for error. Albeit less than in years past. But the Mountain Lions remain confident in their ability to not only play as a team but for each individual to do what they are asked to on a nightly basis.
As long as they do that, they believe they can compete deep into May for a championship.
“This is really a good group,” Gorrell said. “Since I’ve been here for three years, I’ve had a lot of good kids come through. We are going to have big games against big names. We have to show respect to all of our opponents because we will see most of them down the line.”