Gilbert Mesquite baseball has had several close attempts at a state title in years past.
In 2010, the team made it to the finals, only to lose to Mesa Desert Ridge 11-4.
In 2011, Mesquite made it to the semifinals but lost to Chandler Hamilton.
Last season, Mesquite went to the semifinals again, only to lose to Phoenix Brophy Prep.
With a 14-7 record, Mesquite is in playoff contention again. But the team still must overcome an old demon to get there — Hamilton. Twice.
Mesquite has already fallen to Hamilton 7-1 in a February season-opening tournament.
Coach Brad Holland said the team is ready for the challenge, despite a less than perfect beginning.
“Going into the season we knew we were going to be young and I didn’t want these guys to use that as an excuse,” Holland said. “The game doesn’t change because you are a young team. The bases are still 90 feet and the pitching mound is still 60 feet and 6 inches. The other team is not going to feel sorry for you and you shouldn’t feel sorry for yourself either.”
The team plays Hamilton (15-4) on Saturday at home then again on April 19 at Hamilton. Mesquite is 7-0 at home. This could be the confidence boost Mesquite needs to defeat the team that lost to Phoenix Mountain Pointe and Brophy already this year.
Holland said this team may be young — a mixed bag of sophomores, juniors and seniors — but they pack a punch when they bring their best game.
“This team is going to fight and compete until the last out is made.”
Leading the team in pitching is junior Matt Heibult, with six games started, five complete games and a 2.10 ERA. The team’s major hitter is senior first baseman Matt Waldren with a .431 average with 65 at bats. Sophomore Cole Valletta is also preforming well with a .333 batting average in 66 at bats.
Holland said defense and fielding have been strong for the team this season, but the team needs to finish strong in the last seven games of the season — and it can’t fall to the notion of being cursed out of a state title.
Cursed or not, Mesquite’s goal has been the same year after year.
“We are finding ways to compete in each game,” Holland said. “My expectations haven’t changed this year, like every year we want to win a state championship.”