To the west of Red Mountain High School, parked cars dot a stretch of road perpendicular to the softball and baseball diamonds.
The vehicles line up one after another to the right of the entrance, even though parking on the left would mean a shorter walk.
There are two reasons for this: Cole Gleason and T.J. Bennett.
The Red Mountain baseball sluggers are atop the state in home runs, and there is no better time to show off their prodigious power than batting practice, where home runs to left field often end up on the pavement.
If anyone is going to park there, it comes with the risk of a smashed windshield.
“That’s the danger zone right there,” Gleason said. “We get to put on a little show.”
Gleason sits atop the state with 13 home runs (in just 65 at-bats), and Bennett is tied for second with 12. But they aren’t the only pair of teammates doing damage.
Among the top 10 include three sets of players wearing the same jersey.
At Desert Ridge, Taylor Kaczmarek has 10 home runs and Travis Flores has nine. At Mountain Pointe, Kevin Cron has 12 and Josh Alexander nine.
Desert Ridge coach Pat Herrera said the competition between his players elevates both. “I play them against each other all the time,” Herrera said. “Taylor has 10 right now and Travis has nine, so it’s Travis’ week to get ribbed until he ties it up or takes the lead. It definitely motivates them.”
The six players range in stature, but all have shown the ability to go deep with regularity.
Flores had a walk-off grand slam to beat Peoria Sunrise Mountain on Feb. 27.
Gleason hit a home run against Brophy that he estimated went 420 feet.
Kaczmarek hit three home runs in a game, and Anderson, Cron, Gleason and Bennett have all hit two in a game at least once.
Flores and Kaczmarek bat third and fourth in the Desert Ridge order, which gives opposing pitchers fits.
“If I’m hitting good and he’s hitting good, you can’t really pitch around anyone,” Kaczmarek said.
The long ball can be a double-edged sword. It inflicts maximum damage on the opponent, but can also lead to bad habits by the batters.
Players and coaches will tell you that home runs come by accident, when line drive swing attempts hit lower on the ball to give it a higher trajectory.
When a more upper cut swing starts from the beginning, fly outs become more common.
“Last year, I got a little bit of home run fever,” said Gleason, now a junior. “I started off with five home runs in the first three games, so yeah, I started swinging for the fences a little bit. You try to do a little too much.”
Bennett went through it this season, but both Red Mountain hitters said they are back in the line-drive groove.
Herrera said it doesn’t worry him because his players know they will get benched if they put personal statistics ahead of the team.
“Both of them being seniors and in the program for three years, they know what they need to do,” he said.
Most of these six players have gotten to know each other through various baseball activities, which makes it fun to see their names together atop the leaderboard.
“It’s cool,” Gleason said. “Just with the competition and knowing all those guys, you know they’re thinking the same thing that you are.”
As it stands, Gleason and Bennett’s combined home run total is higher than those of the Mountain Pointe and Desert Ridge duos.
Gleason said if it remains that way, a celebratory message will probably be passed along after the conclusion of the season.
But Bennett said staying ahead won’t be easy. “They’re gunning for us,” he said.