West Valley Preps
It was a season of nostalgia even before it began.
And the moments keep piling up in 2017 for Sunrise Mountain baseball.
In January familiar names descended on Peoria for an alumni game against this year’s team. Just after opening the season in March, the program debut its new hitting facility.
Friday night the Mustangs celebrated Eric Gardner, their coach of 19 years, by beating Cactus 8-2 to secure Gardner’s 400th career victory.
“I guess the 400th is more of a milestone as I think it is very rare these days with coaches getting out earlier than in the past. Reflecting on 19 years at one high school is also probably very unique as well,” Gardner stated in an email. “More than anything I think about all of the players that have come through our program in 19 years not necessary the amount of wins. We have been blessed with a lot talented players over the years who have helped us build a winning tradition.”
The first 18 years have seen 12 region or section titles, three state runner up finishes and more than 70 players that have gone on to play college baseball of some sort.
That has meant a lot of former players and peers reaching out to Coach Gardner in the last couple days.
“It’s actually been pretty crazy with the number of players and coaches sending emails and texts congratulating me. I appreciate them all and especially the ones from the coaches that I have coached with over the years,” Gardner stated.
Now the focus is back on this years team, which has grown into one or Gardner’s best after a sluggish start. Sunrise Mountain wiped away early losses to Liberty and Cave Creek Cactus Shadows with a 13-game win streak that includes some elite competition.
It’s a bit premature to pencil in the program’s first state title, as 4A foes Nogales, Tucson Canyon del Oro an Tucson Salpointe Catholic in the mix. But the Mustangs proved this week that they can beat anyone in a one-game tournament setup.
Monday’s opening win in The National Classic in Orange County, Calif. was just a prelude as Sunrise Mountain shot out Bingham, one of the best teams in Utah, 7-0.
Tuesday afternoon, the Mustangs shocked Buchanan from Clovis, Calif. 11-7. The Bears are defending (mythical) national champions and entered the game 18-0 and atop the MaxPreps rankings again.
Sunrise Mountain plays Bishop Amat from La Puente, Calif in one semifinal Wednesday. Win that and the Mustangs are under the lights for the title game Thursday night at Cal-State Fullerton.
Gardner’s 19th team is doing this with contributions up and down its 24-man roster. A program built on its pitching, this squad boasts one of the most potent lineups Sunrise Mountain has fielded.
“We simply have one of the greatest teams that I have ever coached in my time here at Sunrise Mountain. Our guys are truly playing together as one and never seem to panic or get rattled in any situation. We play very loose style of baseball and that’s something we haven’t done in the past,” Gardner stated.