Red Mountain baseball coach Ross Pagel took a few minutes this week to discuss the team’s rough start to the season, winning the Gilbert-Mesquite tournament and occasionally seeing his father in the opposing dugout.
Q: What factors were behind the rough start to this season (2-7 record)? Obviously you played a difficult schedule with power rankings games and the Desert Vista tournament.
A: The biggest thing with us is a lack of experience with three pitchers, our CF (C.J. James) and SS (Alex Sepulveda) and we’re a young, inexperienced team in terms of playing time. We were pretty competitive with some of those teams. We have to play the game the right way to play with people, and if we do we’re OK, but we’ve had a difficult time scoring runs. For a lack of other words I can think of it’s old-fashioned baseball. I think eventually we’ll score more run, but experience at varsity level right now is short and it’s been a difficult start. We mentioned to kids with these days of charting kids and scouting you go against their coaches as much as their pitchers or hitters. That’s a difficult aspect we talked about.
Q: After that rough start you what did you like from your team in winning the Gilbert-Mesquite tournament?
A: We weren’t sure what we were. We didn’t have any ID. We’d lost two power rankings games, and winning the tournament was nice to win that tournament, ‘but’… We’ve tried to implement a plan of what we want to do and the kids seemed to buy into our plan, and it gives us a chance to compete with some of these teams. It’s not about doubles off the wall and home runs with us, but playing the way we need to by catching the ball and throwing the ball. Little things become big things, and one more play sometimes means a whole different ball game. It changes the identity of a game if you miss a play or take the play off. It’s typical baseball but we’ve still stressed it with our kids.
Q: Kids who’ve played well or surprise?
A: C.J. James returning and our pitching has been pretty good. Casey Hersey threw a one-hitter vs. Westwood. Connor Seiferth, and, with Sepulveda, we’ve been fortunate to have some pretty good shortstops, and he’s been good defensively. Kyle Johnson has probably been the biggest surprise. We didn’t think he’d play a whole lot but has done a decent job at third base and he’ll battle you at the plate. He’s found a plan and carries it out. He never does more than what he can but has done. We have to have everyone produce like this, and with 18 kids we’ll sometimes play 17 of them in games. I can bring a kid in (off the bench) for some depth because we’re not a star-studded team or lineup. That’s what we are and we stress to them we need every one of these guys. Every coach will say that but we really do need them to hit or play. It can make it more enjoyable in some ways, and kids know they’re going to get in games. It’s definitely been different but they’re great kids and enjoyable.
Q: Is it strange when your father, Tom, Westwood’s former coach who is now an assistant with Mesa, is in the other team’s dugout? He was when you played against each other (Friday night).
A: It was initially but not anymore. He’s a special man and he talks to our kids. I get a little more competitive than him, not to beat him but sometimes we need a ‘W.’ We’re his second-favorite team. When we play I don’t usually recognize it, but I remember one of the first times I was an assistant (at Red Mountain) and told our (head) coach to get out there and find out what’s going on at home plate because dad’s talking to the (umpires) and he knows all the rule. He just turned 84 years old and I have an eighth-grade son, and hopefully he still can see him play high school baseball and I’m coaching. If it wasn’t for baseball I’m not sure where he would be these days, so to be around the kids and the game is a wonderful thing for him. I know the Webb family at Corona del Sol has the feeling too, it’s pretty neat.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.