Danielle Block pitches hungry.

Literally and figuratively.

The Desert Vista senior has a competitive fire that pushes her to be one of the state’s best and while doing so her stomach is empty.

“Once I go out and pitch I can’t eat anything,” she said. “I’ll have water or Gatorade, but I don’t chew seeds or eat fruit like some of the girls. I want to stay hungry.”

It is working out just fine for Block and the Thunder as she continues to develop and push the team to the next level.

“When Dani steps on the mound she gives us a chance to play with anyone,” Thunder coach Chris Crowl said. “She is a great leader, she has a presence and her leadership is so valuable.”

Block is off to a 4-2 start with an ERA of 0.84 while coming off a gem against Corona del Sol, where she allowed two hits and struck out 14.

The Southern Miss recruit is reaping the benefits of her work ethic that was put in place soon after she took the mound as a 9-year-old.

“The pitching (motion) came easy, but once I got to an age where it got competitive I started putting in a lot of extra work to be good and that got challenging,” she said. “I started playing year-round (with Hot Shots the last three years), coming out early and staying late after practice.

“We have a lot of talent on this team and not just because of what we do on the DV field. It’s everything we do, plus what we do here.”

Block and the five other seniors have seen the Thunder make huge strides during their time with the program.

The Thunder (4-4) won 19 games last season after winning a total of 13 games the two previous years. The expectations are high this season with another test coming this week as the always tough Desert Mountain tournament began on Tuesday.

“We are in a big tournament and we have to come out strong (after a couple losses before spring break),” Block said. “We are capable of playing with any team if we play the way we all can play. It’s a matter of putting it all together.”

It starts with Block, who went 18-11 with a 1.93 ERA last year, as she continues to improve each year.

“She is the difference this year with us being among the top 10 (in Division I),” Crowl said. “She may not be at the level (Arizona State) Dallas Escobedo was, but she is a top five pitcher.”

As much as she has matured on the mound she still needs a little bit of help when it comes to recognizing when you her teammates are having fun with her.

“She is pretty goofy and gullible,” said senior catcher Alyssa Cerminara, who is expected to return to catching after bunion surgery soon. “You can tell her anything and she will believe it.”

Block admits to being on the naïve side at times, but takes it stride. She knows “they gang up” on her and she plays along sometimes, but also is quick to believe regardless of how outrageous it sounds.

“I say, ‘Really?’ no matter how ridiculous it is,” Block said. “Everyone gets a laugh out of it.”

So when she walks behind the mound after each pitch and touches the chalk outline, it isn’t because a teammate told her there were diamonds buried in the diamond?

“No, that’s my way of clearing the last pitch whether it was a strike, home run or ground ball,” Block said with a chuckle. “It just lets me get ready for the next pitch.”

And once she gets to that point Block is no joke.

“There is no one outworking her,” Crowl said. “She does every little thing to be at the top of her game. She wants to be in the circle. As a young player she was bound and determined to be a top-notch pitcher for us and every year there has been huge growth.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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