JJ Sferra is the first to admit he would rather not rely on a computer to know his team’s fate at the end of the regular season.
But the second-year Mountain Pointe baseball coach understands the circumstances his team is currently facing. The Pride entered the last two games of the season this week at 10-6 and No. 14 in the 6A Conference playoffs. This year, due to the pandemic-shortened season, only 16 teams make the postseason.
It’s a peculiar situation for the program to be in, especially given its successful past. But the Pride are in control of their own destiny, a thought that still has Sferra confident down the stretch.
“It’s kind of like our two-strike approach, we always say to not leave it in the hands of the umpire,” Sferra said. “Ultimately, the only thing we can control is our preparation and how hard we play and try to win games. That’s what we put all our eggs into.”
Mountain Pointe took one step closer toward controlling its destiny last Friday, April 30 against Brophy. The Pride took a 9-4 lead into the fifth inning before allowing the Broncos to score five runs and tie the game. A scoreless sixth and top half of the seventh paved the way for Mountain Point to win in walk-off fashion.
One-by-one Pride batters were walked by the opposing pitcher, ultimately setting up a bases loaded situation with no outs. Senior Tyler Kearney, who already had an RBI in the game, hit a line drive to left field that allowed fellow senior Tyvon Moore to cross home plate for the game-winning run.
The win against Brophy, which was one spot ahead of Mountain Pointe, gave the Pride some breathing room in the playoff race. However, there was still little room for error entering Wednesday’s matchup against Red Mountain, the No. 4 team in 6A.
“We all know in the back of our minds what could happen but our mindset with anything is to focus on the next game,” Sferra said. “We never look too far ahead. We just aim to try to come out and play good baseball.”
Mountain Pointe started the 2021 season on a hot streak, beating North, Highland twice and Mountain View before dropping two straight games to Desert Ridge.
The losses came during a period in which the team started struggling with injuries.
Junior Flores, one of the team’s senior leaders and overall best players, has battled a lingering injury since the preseason. It’s limited the Hawaii-commit to just nine games played this year and a below-average batting percentage at the plate. The Pride have also dealt with injuries to its pitching staff, which has hampered them on some occasions.
But still, the team has never lost confidence in itself. In fact, it’s a mindset that the team has carried with it throughout the year.
“We always pick each other up, that’s where the confidence comes from,” senior catcher Cade Westerlund said. “We come together, and we just fight. I think we have the chance to do something special.”
“I think our playoff team would be better than the regular season. I think we could be unstoppable.”
Westerlund is one of several players that has stepped up to help in the absence of other key players this season. He is second behind only fellow senior Cole Sheehan in batting average with a .429 with 12 RBI. Sheehan is batting .453 with 22 RBI. One of Westerlund’s three home runs on the year came in the first inning against Brophy last Friday, a two-run shot that sparked the Pride’s offense.
The win against Brophy, which may turn out to be the difference in playoff implications, was also special for Westerlund and his fellow seniors because it came on senior day for a class that dealt with adversity the last two seasons. Westerlund and Sheehan both said they had a wide range of emotions throughout the contest.
In many ways, it was bittersweet. But most importantly, it gave them further hope of being able to hit the reset button and enter the postseason tournament.
“It was huge,” said Sheehan, who dislocated his finger in the sixth inning against Brophy but came back in the game. “We are right in the spot in the rankings where it was a must-win. We just have to play fluent baseball. If we do that, hopefully it falls our way.”
All of those involved in the Mountain Pointe baseball program know the situation at hand. Win and the Pride are in. Lose and they will likely be on the bubble when the official brackets are release on Thursday.
Especially after a year in which one season was canceled and another hampered with injuries, the Pride feel as if they can enter the postseason a completely different team and shock those ranked ahead of them. But for now, they remain focused on continuing to fight through adversity and do everything they can to get to the playoffs.
“We tell them all the time life is going to throw some things at you and you just have to be prepared and have a next man up mentality,” Sferra said. “Show up, work hard and try to win. That’s it.”