Nathan Ward recalls the energy in the Mountain Pointe dugout as abnormal.
“It was a little weird,” Ward said. “Usually they’ll talk to me but it was kind of quiet. Nobody was saying anything, but it was fun.”
Usually greeted with cheers and high-fives from teammates, Ward was met with lackadaisical messages of encouragement after each frame. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound pitcher knew why he was receiving this type of reaction.
He was only a few outs away from a no-hitter. But he and his teammates didn’t want to acknowledge it.
Ward was on the mound against rival Desert Vista on April 4, a special game in itself given the relationships he has with many Thunder players from their time in club and youth baseball. But as is the case with every opponent, Ward flipped a switch.
The friendly, well-spoken junior turned into a dominant pitcher playing with a chip on his shoulder. He has a constant will to prove his doubters wrong, a feeling that stems from when he was younger. An assistant coach once told him he would never make a varsity baseball roster. But he did that as a sophomore.
“I’ve been proving people wrong forever,” Ward said. “I used to be one of the most unathletic kids. I was still an alright pitcher, but now I’ve been able to do what I wanted to do all along.”
Throwing a no-hitter, however, was one thing Ward believed he may never accomplish during his career. But just like he proved those in the past who had doubted him wrong, he did the same to himself.
A grounder off the bat of a Desert Vista hitter sent the Mountain Pointe faithful and players into a frenzy, as Ward was mobbed by teammates. Mountain Pointe beat Desert Vista 6-0. The no-hitter was complete.
“It’s a special thing to see,” Mountain Pointe coach Matt Denny said. “He’s a hard-working kid and he deserves it. Against DV it’s a little sweeter but he did an unbelievable job.”
Ward was just two batters away from throwing a perfect game, as he walked one in the first inning and the other in the seventh. But the two walks didn’t matter. His 11 strikeouts showed vast improvement after a rough start to the season.
“I knew that it wasn’t where I wanted to be,” Ward said. “I don’t want to be just another pitcher. I want to be the best.”
Ward opened up his junior campaign for Mountain Pointe on March 1 against Sandra Day O’Connor, the 2018 6A champion. In just 2.2 innings, Ward gave up 5 runs – 4 earned – and walked 5 batters. He didn’t have any strikeouts. It was a humbling experience for Ward, but one he was determined to bounce back from.
Seven days later, he gave up just 1 earned run to 2018 6A runner-up, Mountain Ridge. Ward walked 3 batters and struck out 5 in 4.1 innings of work.
In his five appearances leading up to his no-hitter against Desert Vista, Ward gave up just 2 earned runs and struck out 16 batters. He walked five more.
“He’s just battling,” Denny said. “He’s not trying to do too much. He’s really kind of being a bulldog and competing really well.”
Ward took the mound against Basha on April 9, five days after his no-hitter. He struck out five batters and gave up 3 earned runs in 6 innings as the Pride beat the Bears 11-3. Despite a slow start in the first inning, in which Basha managed to get two of its three runs, Ward settled in to bring his overall record to 4-1.
Mountain Pointe endured early struggles as a team early in the season, losing three out of its first four games. Since then, however, the Pride are 19-3 and on a 13-game winning streak that started on March 25.
They were No. 12 in 6A heading into their April 16 game against Corona del Sol. Mountain Pointe sits a game behind the Aztecs for the lead in the Central Region. But with two games remaining against Corona, the Pride could take sole possession and win the region heading into the state tournament.
Given Ward’s success on the hump for Mountain Pointe, it’s likely he will have a chance to pitch his team to a region title.
“We’ve wanted to win a championship even before tryouts,” Ward said. “That’s all we’ve wanted and that’s what we are going after. That’s our goal.”