Desert Mountain baseball faces tough region slate with new head coach

Senior Holden Boyce rounds third base and heads home during Desert Mountain’s 11-6 win over Pinnacle. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Change has landed at Desert Mountain High School and it is yielding positive effects for the baseball team as it hunts for its first winning season since 2015.

Desert Mountain is off to a 10–5 start to the season as of Thursday, March 29 and have flexed its prowess recently against Pinnacle High School, winning 11–6 Wednesday, March 28. The next day, Desert Mountain fell to Pinnacle 6–0, bringing its region record to 1–2.

First-year Head Coach Erik Kehoe is leading the charge and so far, it appears the players are buying into the team’s third head coach in four years.

In particular, Coach Kehoe said he has been impressed with his seniors because they’ve fully experienced the rotating cast at head coach.

“They’ve bought into our approaches, our philosophy of team first, player second,” he said in a March 28 interview. “They’ve had great attitudes for the most part. They’ve shown some good leadership.”

Anthony Caraballo slides into home plate trying to avoid the Pinnacle catcher during Desert Mountain’s 11-6 win over Pinnacle. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Still, the Wolves face a tough region slate that includes Pinnacle, Horizon, Mountain Ridge and O’Connor high schools, all of which rank in the top 16, according to a Thursday, March 29 azpreps365.com poll.

Leading up to region play, Desert Mountain has fared well for itself under a new head coach. Senior Garrett Elwell said he notices a much different atmosphere than in past years.

“(Coach Kehoe has) come in and he’s turned this program around,” Elwell said in a March 28 interview. “We have so much more team chemistry and overall, we just play better as a team.”

Fellow senior Jack Silverman agreed that the atmosphere is much different, which has led to a better sense of team chemistry.

Silverman said last year, there were times when players would pout because they weren’t getting the playing time they wanted, creating a disconnect between starters and bench players. Not so much this year, he says.

“Everyone’s up, everyone’s ready for their opportunity because they know they’re one injury away,” he said in a March 28 interview. “And the starters, we’re supportive of everyone and it’s great because the bench guys are really supportive of us.”

Through the month of April, all of Desert Mountain’s games are against region opponents, except for an April 14 game against Chaparral High School.

Coach Kehoe spent last year coaching at Basha High School in Chandler where he faced the likes of state champions Hamilton High School as well as Chandler and Perry high schools.

While he did face Desert Valley Region opponents in the past, this is Coach Kehoe’s first time facing this region gauntlet. Upon looking at the coming games, he calls the region a “meat grinder.”

“There’s no easy game in this region,” Coach Kehoe said. “I think all the schools and all the coaches know that. It’s just a matter of being mentally tough, keeping your composure and at the end of the day, it’s about competing and having fun.”

Diving further into region play, Coach Kehoe said he believes one of his team’s strengths is its pitching.

Garrett Elwell pitches the ball during an 11-6 win over Pinnacle. (Submitted Photo)

In particular, Coach Kehoe mentioned Elwell as the team’s top pitcher. Elwell, as of March 29, has a sub-1.5 earned run average and is 5–0 on the season, according to maxpreps.com.

“It’s almost like where he goes, we go type of thing,” Coach Kehoe said.

The other pitcher Coach Kehoe highlighted was senior Hayden Nierman. Although his record is 0-2 and his ERA is 8.2, Coach Kehoe says he believes Nierman’s statistics aren’t representative of the fact that he is considered the team’s No. 2 pitcher

The pitching rotation still is growing. Junior Paul Sachen closed for the Wolves against Pinnacle and surrendered four runs in the top of the seventh.

Coach Kehoe said even though Sachen struggled, he wanted him to get some repetitions in at pitcher and he was happy he did get that chance late in the game.

Another strength Coach Kehoe cited was the team’s defense, which is allowing not quite five runs per game. Offensively, the Wolves are averaging a little more than six runs scored per game.

With these skills in mind, Elwell said it was no secret the Wolves would face a tough region but the toughness hasn’t deterred Desert Mountain at all.

“I think we thrive off that,” he said. “We love these tough games. The energy in the dugout is huge and we just thrive off that.”

With a recent win over a top-ranked team under their belt, Silverman said he hopes that win carries a message to the rest of the region.

“We can play with anyone,” Silverman said. “It doesn’t matter that we don’t have the big bodies, the big commits. We can play with anyone.”

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.