The idea of bringing up young players in order to soak in a postseason run is nothing new.
Coaches do it all of the time and it is why the Mountain Pointe dugout looked like a New York subway car on a weekday commute or a Phoenix Coyotes playoff game on the way to the state title a year ago.
It was standing room only.
Pride coach Brandon Buck hopes pitchers Kyle Detwiler and Zach Cordova learned through osmosis as the team enters the postseason with zero career postseason innings.
“We wanted them around to see what it is like,” Buck said. “We will do it again this year with some of our young players. It not only rewards them for the season they had, but gives them an idea of what it is like to play at this level, so hopefully those guys got a taste of what it was like.”
Desert Vista is a little more experienced as senior left-hander Hunter Rodriguez started the Thunder’s first postseason game when he was a sophomore in a loss to Desert Ridge.
The rest of the staff, including Luke Leftwich, Conner Kelly and Tyler Viza, will be new to the postseason.
Ideally, the players are not affected by the fact it is a one-and-done situation in the first round of the postseason. They step to the mound and treat it as any other game.
“It is still baseball,” Desert Vista coach Stan Luketich said. “Some times the kids play the game differently but the game is the same. Get ahead people, throw good pitches and play good defense behind them. Baseball is a game of catch and throw and if you do that you have a chance to win a game.”
Some will argue that the Thunder and Pride already faced playoff-like atmospheres down the stretch.
While the Pride had this week off until hosting Saturday’s first-round game, Mountain Pointe played four straight games last week needing to win all of them to better its postseason seeding.
Desert Vista had two games this week that came with the extra pressure of having to win at least one, if not both, to secure one of the final 24 spots in the Division I tournament.
So they’ve pitched in big games, but it is hard to tell if it translates to their first postseason game.
With the regular season over, the Pride has been able to set up its rotation with Detwiler (4-2, 1 save, 2.50 ERA in 47 2/3 innings) and Cordova (5-1, 3.30 ERA in 40 1/3 innings) expected to start the first two games should the Pride win its opening game.
The Thunder’s rotation will be a little harder to pin down considering this week’s schedule and their postseason livelihood in the balance.
“Every arm is available,” Luketich said.
Leftwich (4-3, 2.59 ERA in 46 innings as of Monday) and Rodriguez (3-4, 3.90 ERA in 46 2/3 innings) will be counted on the most.
While Rodriguez has pitched in big moments, including the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., as a youth, Leftwich considered his biggest start a win over Brophy last week as the most important game he has ever pitched.
“We needed that win and we got it,” he said. “You don’t want to treat any game differently, but of course it is. Everyone just wants to do their best regardless of the game. I can’t try and pitch any harder than what I am already doing it.”
With the Division I tournament seemingly open to several teams in this year of parity and the new bat regulations taking the zap out of some lineups, quality pitching depth might be more important than ever.
Luketich knew he had a quality arm in Rodriguez, but wasn’t sure who else would be reliable but it has been clear from the start that Leftwich, Kelly and Viza were ready for the roles placed upon them.
“They made some really improvements from a year ago,” Luketich said. “They have gotten tougher on the mound, challenged people with a great heart and a strong mind.
“I figured for us to have a successful season at least two of those three had to develop and I think all three have done a great job.”
The Pride, who uses Joey Curletta (2-0, 3 saves, 1.33 ERA in 26 1/3 innings) as its third option, has seen similar development in their tandem.
“Cordova has had a phenomenal year,” Buck said. “He has beaten some of the best programs out there. He is just a pitcher. That’s the best way to describe him. He isn’t overpowering, but he knows how to pitch.
“Det(wiler) has been just as tough. We are pretty confident no matter who we throw out there.”
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