Mountain Pointe High’s baseball program vowed not to let the preseason hype go to their heads when the 2020 season began in early March.
To each player, it didn’t matter where they were ranked in the state or nation. They recognized there was still work to be done throughout the season to prove themselves after a disappointing end to the 2019 season, where they were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round.
But still, they admit it felt good to receive national recognition.
“It’s special, we waited 4 years to put Mountain Pointe back on the map,” senior infielder Carson Tucker said. “It’s like when Kevin Cron and those guys were here, that’s what we want to be like. But we still have to prove ourselves.”
Mountain Pointe entered the new season as the No. 23 ranked team in the nation according to MaxPreps. It was one of two programs in Arizona to receive recognition. Hamilton, last year’s 6A state champion, was ranked No. 4.
But there were still several questions that surrounded the Mountain Pointe program. For one, former assistant and alum JJ Sferra was taking over the program for Matt Denny, who left for the same position at Casteel before the season. There were also questions surrounding who would step up for talent lost to graduation from last year’s 22-8 team.
While still early in the season, those questions are starting to be answered. But with Tempe Union High School District having announced its schools would close because of growing concerns of the coronavirus pandemic, the Pride’s season has been put on hold.
“Obviously, there’s a big health issue going on in society, I get that,” Sferra said. “The district wanted to be proactive and I can’t fault them for that. We can’t put anybody in harm’s way, which I’m all for. Hopefully it’s not too long but that’s out of our control.”
Mountain Pointe started the 2020 season 1-2, losing to a pair of programs that are widely regarded as title contenders in Red Mountain and Sandra Day O’Connor. The Pride had an impressive win over a rising Perry team before the team went on spring break last week.
Mountain Pointe had some slight struggles early on against the Pumas, falling behind by two runs early on. But two home runs and five RBI by senior infielder Carson Tucker, a Texas signee, helped lead Mountain Pointe to a win.
Tucker, who could very well be picked in the early rounds of the upcoming MLB Draft in June, is one of the players Sferra has turned to for leadership among players this season. The others, senior utility player and Arizona State signee Ethan Long and senior pitcher Nathan Ward.
Long, who transferred from Mesquite before his junior year, has gained even more confidence in all of his Mountain Pointe teammates now as a senior. He believes the trust they all have in each other will pay off down the line.
“I have so much trust in these boys and I know how much work they all put in,” Long said. “I’m confident in our ability to come out on top every time no matter who we are against.”
Mountain Pointe was already forced to miss its game against Desert Ridge on Monday. The Pride were also scheduled to host the Coach Bob Pride Classic Invitational from March 18-26. However, that has since been canceled.
It’s unclear how many games Mountain Pointe will end up missing during the district’s suspension of sports. That remains one of the main questions on the minds of everyone involved in the program.
“I talked to a few players and they have questions,” Sferra said. “‘Are we done for the year?’ things like that. They’re kids, they want to play, and I want to coach. Hopefully we can play some baseball at some point this spring.”
When Mountain Pointe is able to return to the field, however, the team will continue to rely on its senior class. Luckily, that isn’t too bad of an option.
Long was named as a preseason All-American candidate by MaxPreps after batting .469 last season with eight doubles, 30 RBI and nine home runs. Tucker wasn’t far behind him, batting .453 with 24 RBI and eight doubles.
Ward, who signed with Yavapai College, threw the Pride’s only no hitter last season as a junior. He had a 3.47 ERA overall last season with 41 strikeouts.
Despite a rocky start to the season, Mountain Pointe remains a resilient and confident group. There’s still no telling if the Pride will be able to play their games against Pinnacle on March 28 and Queen Creek on March 31.
No matter when they are able to return to the field, they will all have the same championship mindset.
“We can go as far as we want to go,” Tucker said. We have the talent and we have the mentality that we all want to come together as one. If we do that, we can do something special this year.”