GILBERT - Desert Vista’s Luke Leftwich showed up three batters late to his best pitching performance of the season.

After allowing two base hits to the first two hitters, Leftwich’s fastball was crushed out of the park by Mesquite senior Garrett Jeffries.

Leftwich went on to pitch the complete game, but those three batters proved to be the difference.

The Thunder (5-7, 2-1 in power rankings) weren’t able to bounce back from the early deficit and lost to the Wildcats 5-3 at Mesquite in their fourth game of the Mesquite-Gilbert Baseball Invite on Wednesday night.

“Luke competed well,” Desert Vista coach Stan Luketich said. “That was the best I’ve seen him pitch in two years in terms of being competitive.”

After giving up the three runs in the first inning and one run in the second, Leftwich (1-3) progressively found better control of his pitches as the game went on and kept the Wildcats scoreless until the seventh. He struck out four and allowed nine hits and three walks.

“I’m going to take this loss in stride,” Leftwich said. “I did some things well, but I definitely have some things to work on. I need to work in the bullpen to get better and come out next time firing.”

Mesquite sophomore Matt Heibult used his off-speed pitches to handle the Desert Vista lineup, striking out three and allowing two runs on six hits through four innings. Senior Spencer Applebach was credited with the save after pitching three innings in relief, giving up three hits and one run with four strikeouts.

“It was a great team win,” Mesquite coach Jeff Holland said. “We prepare them from Day One, you’re going to be put in situations like this and you’ve got to be mentally tough. ... I thought Mesquite baseball did really well today.”

For the most part, both teams’ pitchers held the opposing hitters at bay.

Offensive standouts for the Wildcats included Jeffries, who finished 1 for 2 with the home run, three RBI and a run, and junior Matt Waldren, who went 1 for 3 with an RBI double in the second inning. Mesquite also stole seven bases as a team.

Senior Tyler Adams went 2 for 4 with a run and a stolen base in the lead-off spot for the Thunder. Pinch-hitter Hunter Rodriguez went 1 for 1 with an RBI single in the seventh, looking to spark a rally but never materialized when Adams, the next hitter, hit into a double play.

Despite the result, Luketich was encouraged by his team’s performance.

“It was our best team effort of the year,” Luketich said. “I’m very, very proud of our kids. If we keep playing like that, we’re going to win a bunch of ballgames.”

What stood out the most in Holland’s mind was the intensity level that both teams brought into the game.

“Even though it’s a tournament, (today’s game) had a playoff atmosphere,” Mesquite coach Jeff Holland said. “There was a lot of intensity. It was a good game.”

Chris Cole is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a sophomore at Arizona State University.

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