Even though Stan Luketich manicures the Desert Vista baseball field so much he probably has a name for every grain of dirt that covers the infield and has coached just about every inning since the program’s inception in 1997, the thing he might be most proud of is something he has no involvement in.
The Thunder baseball players began meeting on Sundays last year at the field for a barbecue and have continued it this year. It gives them a chance to hangout without playing ball, breakout a Frisbee and dabble in a little chemistry.
“That is something they did all on their own last year and kept it going,” Luketich said. “As a coach you couldn’t want anything more. They probably learned something about playing for each other and caring for each other. It has a lot to do with being successful.”
It has led to Desert Vista becoming a team long before they ever take the field.
“We are pulling for each more compared to other years,” senior shortstop Colby Woodmanse said. “We have a lot of chemistry. The older guys are stepping up to be leaders and the younger players are looking up to us.”
It led to a solid start to the season entering this week’s action at 2-3 after two weekends of Desert Vista’s 14th annual tournament. It could have been much better if it weren’t for some late inning breakdowns as the Thunder lost leads to Hamilton and Mesquite.
“We are probably tougher than I thought we were,” Luketich said. “We are not tough enough yet in the mental part, but we are getting better every game. You have to finish the game and we didn’t finish the game. We have to execute better offensively and we have to pitch and play defense better.
“We have to play a whole game.”
Despite the late inning disappointments, Desert Vista headed into Tuesday’s game at Corona del Sol excited about its prospects this season.
It starts with the way the pitchers performed against some of the top offenses in Division I as Tyler Viza and Sean McGuire led the way with some quality innings.
Viza held Hamilton scoreless through five innings in a 4-3 loss, while McGuire limited Mesquite to two runs heading into the seventh before the Wildcats rallied for two runs in a 4-3 defeat.
“We were unaware of some people but they have really proven themselves,” senior outfielder Aaron Modi said. “Everyone on our team can throw strikes and get the job done. I have complete faith in everyone on our team.”
The offense and defense were expected to be good — the team hit .341 in the first three games with Arizona State recruit Woodmanse going 1 for 12 — but the pitching was the one unknown, but not anymore.
Especially if McGuire continues to progress like he has in his senior year. After throwing only 11 innings as a junior, he already has 12 frames in 2013 with a 2.33 ERA.
“We are doing a good job of not trying to strike people out and let the defense make plays,” McGuire said. “My confidence is pretty high. I can throw strikes and that’s the most important thing.”
How far the Thunder, who went 16-14 and were ousted in the second round of the Division I playoffs in 2012, can go is hard to tell at this point, but it is clear they have something special in the dugout, on the bus rides, and on Sundays.
“A lot of us have played with each other since we were 4 or 5 years old,” McGuire said. “We have the barbecues every Sunday where we mess around and play ultimate Frisbee. We have great chemistry and heart.
“We have the heart, which is the most important part. You have to have talent, but heart is what makes the difference.”
• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.