The photo stared at the Gilbert Mesquite baseball team every practice, every game, every day of the season.
In the photo Chandler Hamilton’s players were in a dog pile, celebrating their Division I state championship victory over Mesquite last season. A few feet away, out of the camera’s lens, Mesquite watched in silent agony.
The minute he saw the photo, Mesquite coach Jeff Holland knew what he wanted to do with it. He stuck it on his practice plans and put it in the dugout, a reminder to his players of how they suffered the year before and motivation to not have to deal with that pain again.
Holland can burn the photo now.
Mesquite finally won the state title it couldn’t claim in 2014 or 2008 – when it lost to Hamilton again – by beating Peoria Liberty 5-2 Tuesday at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Afterwards, there was another photo taken, this time of Mesquite’s players piling onto one another near the pitcher’s mound.
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“We had a lot of people coming back (six starters) and they know how it felt watching Hamilton celebrate,” Holland said. “This was our turn.”
Holland had an anxious déjà vu moment in the top of the seventh. Mesquite had a 5-2 lead over Hamilton in the seventh inning in ’08 but Hamilton scored four runs and walked off with the title. This time, there would be no comeback. Senior starting pitcher Josh Webster made sure of it. Webster pitched a complete game, shutting out Liberty after it scored two runs in the top of the first. He allowed just six hits, only one of which came in the final four innings.
He was the starter and the closer.
“He’s done what he’s done all year,” Holland said.
Webster threw his glove into the air after the final out was made. Finally, he could forget about Hamilton and that blasted photo.
“It stayed with us until today,” Webster said. “At the beginning of the game the speech … we were like, ‘Guys, remember what happened last year. We are not letting that happen again.’ We made sure we were going to win this game.”
As Holland spoke an older gentlemen wearing a blue Mesquite shirt and a white Mesquite hat was hugging coaches, players, whoever came near. Denny Holland, Jeff’s dad, is 67 years old and a fixture in the program. Go to any Mesquite game and he’ll be the guy walking around, shouting things that even Jeff doesn’t understand half the time.
“He has his own baseball language,” Jeff Holland said. “He’s a freakin’ nut. But this one was for him.”
Photos: High school baseball state tournaments – 2015
There was another Holland on the field but his story was bittersweet. Junior Parker Holland, Jeff’s son, tore his anterior cruciate ligament earlier this season and couldn’t play. Father and son talked before the game, trying to balance the opportunity that lie ahead with the disappointment Parker felt.
“It was hard for him,” Jeff Holland said. “He should have been out there. He was our starting second baseman for two years. I told him, ‘It’s hard not putting your name in the starting lineup.’ “
Parker Holland will get another chance his senior season. For now and forever, though, he and his teammates will have the great satisfaction of knowing they gave Mesquite its first state championship in any sport since the school opened in August of 1998.
Seventeen years is a long time to wait.
“Every time I go into the gym I see those two runner-up state title banners and I just turn away,” Jeff Holland said. “I wanted the real deal and we finally got it.”
Holland was told the trophy will look good in the school’s trophy case.
“It’s not going to go in the case for a while,” he said with a smile. “It’s going to be in my house for a long time.”