Photo by Donn ParrisThey will continue to wear their familiar maroon-dominated uniforms with the script letters that still spell out Mountain Pointe (Phoenix), but they are representing so many more teams this week.
Cole Tucker (with Team USA experience) and his Mountain Pointe teammates will head to represent the Grand Canyon State in the NHSI.
The Mountain Pointe baseball program feels the responsibility of representing all of Arizona this week as the Pride take part in the third annual National High School Invitational at USA Baseball's training complex in Cary, N.C.
The Pride (9-2) are one of 16 teams from around the country to be invited to this year's tournament. Mountain Pointe is the second Arizona team to participate after Hamilton (Chandler) went 3-1 last year.
The championship bracket is single elimination and the Huskies lost to the eventual champion – Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) – but then won the final three games.
"It's a great tournament and the best venue we've ever played at," Hamilton coach Mike Wood said. "You go there and you are facing some of the best around, but (Mountain Pointe) is going to be fine. Arizona is as good as anyone."
Just like how Horizon proved it on Monday when it beat Harvard-Westlake, the top team in the MaxPreps Xcellent top 25 by a 1-0 score, Mountain Pointe hopes to put a little luster on Arizona baseball when it opens the tournament today against 12-0 Bishop Verot (Fort Myers, Fla.) at 8 a.m. (MST). Verot has outscored its opponents 117-8.
The Pride is 9-2 but have played some of the top programs in Arizona leading up to their trip east.
"When you look at programs like Chaparral, Horizon and Brophy and other schools that have won so many state championships, it is very humbling to be the second team from Arizona to be invited, considering the caliber of baseball played here," Buck said. "There is no way the teams (in the tournament) are going to be heads above the teams we play here.
"We are so prepared to go out and play well because of who we face in Arizona."
See a rundown of opening-round games and names to watch at the NHSI
The play on the field is what it is. They'll either stay in the championship side of the bracket or drop to the consolation. Mountain Pointe has the talent and pedigree to play with anyone, but so do the other 15 teams.
The key to the week, which gets started with a 5:30 a.m. flight on Tuesday, will be getting better on the field, forging even deeper relationships with the team bonding, and community service deeds like volunteering at a children's hospital.
"We are going to be with each other for five straight days," Buck said. "We have an all-around good group of guys. The strong relationships are going to get stronger and the weaker ones will get better. It's a really cool deal.
"Plus, we are basically playing in a state tournament-type atmosphere and this is a benchmark test. We'll come back stronger in every aspect of being a team, know where we have to get better and get ready for the main playoffs."
And if they can do it while playing some winning baseball against some of the best teams the country has to offer, then that's even better.
Mountain Pointe has two players — Ernie De La Trinidad and Cole Tucker — who have played at the USA Baseball complex on national teams, talent throughout the lineup and confidence to come back when down by a few runs.
"We are going to play our best against the best," said pitcher Peyton Holm, who hasn't allowed an earned run in 12 2/3 innings. "We've been waiting for this trip and we want to represent Arizona the best we can. It's a great chance to play at a great facility and get better."
De la Trinidad, who leads the team in average (.448), runs (15) and doubles (tied with six), said the experience will only focus their intentions on and off the field.
"We are a pretty close team with good chemistry already," he said. "We are going to get better playing against this level of competition and it's going to be something we'll always remember."
Wood said he was worried a year ago what kind of effect the tournament would have on this squad, but felt they came through the whole experience better off.
"I thought we'd come back and be a little flat because it was such an emotional high," said Wood, whose team is No. 5 in the Xcellent 25 this week. "We played well and there was no hangover. Brandon and that team will come back ready to play."
Buck, whose team has a team average of .334 and ERA of 2.28, said the group is ready to compete against anyone the Pride comes across in North Carolina.
"We have to make sure to take care of business," he said. "We are going to go out, have some fun, and enjoy the experience. We've been very fortunate to play some very good opponents before we left, especially our last three games. Playing that caliber of baseball and winning those games sets us up really well heading out there."
Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothill News staff writer, is a 19-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-272-2449.