The baseball season is under way so innings will pile up and batting averages will begin their climb.

It's all well and good, part of the process, but what matters most in the early going is finding a level of trust within the team that will lay the ground work for the end of the season.

"The biggest question is how much we care about each other and if we are willing to play as a team," said Desert Vista coach Stan Luketich, who has run the program since its inception. "That is the most important thing. If we do that then we have a chance to be a good team, but if we don't - like any team that doesn't have that - we are going to struggle."

The Thunder, which had a rare non-winning season (15-17) last year, begins the year hosting its own invitational as Mesa Mountain View, Chandler Hamilton, Yuma Cibola and Mesa Red Mountain will provide an early test.

Desert Vista returns a good mix of talent that should give the Thunder a shot at a 20-win season if everything falls into place.

"If our returners play to their capability and lead our young kids then we have a pretty good chance to be competitive," said Luketich, who has guided Desert Vista to two state titles (1999, 2001).

Last year the offense was good enough to win most games, but the pitching struggled. The pitching has to catch up or it could be another quick exit from the postseason.

The team leaders will be senior shortstop Casey Thomas (.388), junior captain outfielder Zach Steigerwald, senior captain third baseman/pitcher Dereck Grey (.262), senior captain pitcher/outfielder Garret Brandt and senior pitcher/catcher Shaun Chase (.411, 13 HR, 40 RBI).

"I don't think there is going to be one thing we are going to be awesome in and I sure hope there are no glaring weaknesses," Luketich said. "We have to play smart and that will give you a chance to every time you step on the diamond."

Mountain Pointe (21-11) is coming off a state runner-up finish in the Class 5A Division I and returns enough talent to make another run.

Last year's regular season was solid, but the Pride took off in the postseason and surprised some by getting to the championship game. All of that experience can only lead to good things in 2011.

"We are excited about our opportunities," said coach Brandon Buck, who has a 101-64 record in six seasons with the Pride. "We lost the best senior leadership I've ever had, but we have experience, power and depth in pitching."

The power starts with senior catcher Kevin Cron, who tied the state record for home runs (25) while hitting .496 with 59 RBIs. He will be protected by junior first baseman Joey Curletta (.414, 7 HR, 19 RBIs) while seniors Tony Balderama (utility) and Justin Tibbitt (OF/P) will provide leadership.

The middle infield will be solid with the return of twins Scott (shortstop) and Sam (second base) Kingery as the season began this week at the Scottsdale Quarterback Club tournament.

The pitching duties will fall on seniors Junior Zepeda and Jordan Kipper and Tibbit.

Horizon Honors is coming off an 8-14 in Class 2A and should be led by a trio of talented seniors in Alex Eddy (.409), Andrew Ertle (.400) and John Tamburino (.531, 5 HR, 28 RBI).

"Each year we strive to be better at the end of the year than at the beginning," coach Kevin Burdette said. "We have an outstanding group of young men that make up the team this year that need to believe in themselves and their abilities."

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