Before he left the field, Mountain Pointe senior Josh Alexander scooped up a couple of handfuls of infield dirt from the Camelback Ranch baseball stadium and put them in a plastic bag.
It will be a memento of the state final 5A-I baseball championship game the Pride played there Saturday night.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with this,” Alexander said, “but it’s going someplace special.”
Even though Mountain Pointe didn’t take home the championship trophy, they did leave with some good memories and the satisfaction of being the first Pride team since 1995 to reach the finals.
Gilbert Desert Ridge broke open a 5-4 game with six runs in the sixth inning and cruised to an 11-4 victory for its second consecutive state title. The top-seeded Jaguars also won the state 5A-II championship last season before moving up in class this season.
Last year, Mountain Pointe secured the final open spot in the playoffs but went home after two games of the double-elimination tournament.
“No one expected us to be here,” Alexander said, “so just getting this far was an achievement.”
Alexander was one of the key players in helping the Pride get to the title game.
Although he considers himself more of an outfielder than a pitcher, he shut the door on Mesa Red Mountain to preserve a 6-5 win in a relief role to get the Pride to the semifinals against Gilbert Mesquite.
Then, after Mountain Pointe was shut out, 4-0, on a three-hitter by Mesquite’s Zach Davies in the first game of the semifinal double-elimination contest on May 13, Alexander went to the mound in relief again.
This time, with a runner at third and the go-ahead run at second, Alexander fooled Rocky High with an inside fastball to get a called third strike and preserve a 7-6 victory.
That earned the Pride seats in the dugout at the spacious spring training home of the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers.
But the extra game against Mesquite two nights earlier, and ace Kevin Cron hobbled by a foot injury, limited the Pride’s pitching options for the championship game.
So Mountain Pointe coach Brandon Buck called on Alexander again, this time to start against Desert Ridge in the title game.
He got to the fourth inning of a 3-3 game before being relieved by Junior Zepeda.
“That was my first start since I was a sophomore, and I just ran out of gas,” Alexander said.
Mountain Pointe got a quick jump on the Jaguars.
Cron drove a two-out, 400-foot home run over the left field fence in the first inning. That gave him 22 for the season, which tied a state record Desert Vista’s Corey Myers had owned since 1999.
Alexander singled and scored on Joey Curletta’s double.
Jordan Kipper drove in another Pride run in the second but was ruled out stretching that hit into a double by the umpiring crew.
Desert Ridge got back in the game with two runs in the second and another in the third and two more in the fourth.
Alexander tripled to right in the fifth inning then stole home from third for the second time in the playoff series to close the Jaguar’s lead to 5-4, giving the Pride hope for a comeback.
But then Desert Ridge broke the game open and beat the Pride for the third time this season.
Mountain Pointe’s usually solid defense had committed five errors by the final out of the game.
“I’ve said the whole year that this is the best group of boys I’ve had the privilege of coaching,” Buck said.
The Pride should get some key starters back, including Cron, but they will be losing 12 seniors.
“That leadership is what we have to replace and that’s huge,” Buck said. “Without that leadership this year we don’t get it done.”
Like Alexander saving some infield dirt, others will have memories of the season and the playoffs. Buck added.
“Kevin Cron tying the state home run record in a big ball park, and Alexander stealing home in a state championship game,” Buck said “I’d like to have someone else do that. This season has been fun, and there are a lot of memories that these guys won’t forget.”