The change in Mountain Pointe baseball from last year to this spring is subtler than the 2010 team's record and playoff success would indicate.
"We were separated as seniors, juniors and sophomores," junior Kevin Cron said of last year's team. "This year we have a great group of guys who play together, get it done picking each other up and have a lot of fun."
Last season Mountain Pointe was 16-16 overall and 1-7 in the old Central Region. This year, playing in the new East Valley Region, the Pride were 19-10 overall, 9-3 in league.
Last year the Pride were in the final spot in the state 5A-I playoff and were eliminated after two rounds.
This season the sixth-seeded Pride have rolled through the opening two rounds of the tournament and are headed for the semifinals of the double-elimination tournament against 10th-seed Mesa Red Mountain at 4 Saturday afternoon at Camelback Ranch-Glendale Stadium, spring training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox.
Red Mountain beat second-seeded Gilbert Mesquite, 8-6, in another quarterfinal game Tuesday evening at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
"We key off of our previous games," Cron said after the Pride beat third-seeded Chandler Hamilton, 7-4, at Muni, where the Oakland A's play their spring training games.
Cron, who hit a two-run homer to left to get the Pride going in the first inning, started behind the plate and then relieved starter Joey Rocha in the fifth inning after Rocha allowed one run over 4 1/3 innings.
Pride sophomore Joey Curletta slammed two home runs out of the spacious Muni stadium, but the Pride had learned its lesson about hitting in big ballparks last month when they lost to rival Desert Vista, 2-1, over eight innings in Mesa's HoHoKam Stadium.
"The game was on TV (Cox)," Mountain Pointe coach Brandon Buck said, "so when you get into that kind of atmosphere everyone wants to hit a home run in a big league park and you can't blame them. This time we weren't looking to hit home runs."
Rocha, who pitched seven innings at HoHoKam and didn't get a decision, didn't show any pressure.
"Playing at HoHokam helped," Rocha said. "I knew this was a big game and that if we won we'd be in a good spot, but everyone contributed. And I liked the feel of the mound. It made me feel like I was a better pitcher."
But Rocha, and especially Cron, got some defensive help, too.
Senior center fielder Josh Alexander ran down a couple of balls on the warning track and Steve Gorman also saved a couple of runs in the outfield.
Alexander crashed the wall in center field to save at least three runs in the bottom of the seventh and acted like it was routine.
"I knew I had a good jump on the ball, but I was on a dead run to catch it," Alexander said. "I like big ball parks because it's easier to read a ball and you feel like you can run forever."
Buck has seen a change on the Pride team this season, too.
"At the beginning of the year we had 12 seniors and some people might worry about carrying that many seniors because they all can't play," Buck said. "But the leadership on this team has been awesome. This is one of the most fun groups I've had because you know these guys will bust their butts for each other."
If the Pride get past Red Mountain they'll be back in Muni for the semifinals on May 14. If they lose they get another chance on Tuesday afternoon at Camelback Ranch.