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Pahrump baseball players getting back on the field

Pahrump Valley High School baseball players learned their season ended because of the COVID-19 pandemic in early March while they were playing in a tournament in Arizona. Perhaps it’s fitting that some of those same players will be on the Trojan Gold club team that will spend this weekend playing in Arizona.

The Pahrump team will compete in the 16+ high school division of the Rockin’ on the River Tournament hosted by Exposure Baseball Events in Bullhead City, Arizona in a field which includes two teams from Las Vegas and four teams from Arizona. Trojan Gold will play two games Saturday and then participate in a single-elimination tournament Sunday.

The club also has a Trojan Maroon team, and some players will play for both clubs this fall. The team has been practicing two nights each week for more than a month, including Tuesday night at Ian Deutch Park.

“Practice last night was an opportunity for our guys to get on the field and get after it,” coach Brian Hayes said. “It was the first time our pitchers have thrown live and the first time our hitters have seen live pitching since early March for most of our guys.”

It showed, as hitter after hitter was late swinging on pitches because the timing was off.

“Needless to say, we were a bit rusty,” Hayes acknowledged. “Overall, our pitchers did a pretty good job of throwing strikes and mostly had their way with our hitters. Our hitters struggled quite a bit, which is OK at this point. We always want our pitching and defense to be ahead of our offense at the early point of our season.”

Pitchers Jake Riding, Kyle McDaniel and Jalen Denton stood out and “pretty much dominated,” Hayes said.

“Our pitching staff looks good,” said coach Drew Middleton. “We came in, dominated the strike zone, hit our spots, and pitching shined through the workout. It was a good first night of live pitching.”

There was one area in which Middleton thought the pitchers need some work.

“We had a handful of kids steal some bags last night,” he said. “That shows we have a lot of speed on the team, which is exciting. It also annoys me, because my pitchers can do a better job holding runners and managing the run game.”

“Offensively, we didn’t have a lot of success, but James Metscher, Kyle McDaniel, Fidel Betancourt, Jalen Denton, Austin Sandoval and Ryan Braithwaite all showed good approach and did well at the dish,” Hayes said.

But the long layoff — not only high school baseball but Little League International and summer baseball circuits stayed off the field because of the pandemic — was obvious to Hayes in the number of mental mistakes he saw players make.

“Our biggest takeaway from last night was that our guys are in catch-up mode,” Hayes said. “We saw a lot of rookie mistakes, base running mistakes, mental mistakes, physical mistakes, not understanding approach, not understanding game situations … mistakes we expect to see and hope to work through, understanding that our kids missed an entire high school and summer season.”

Those mistakes Hayes expects to see, but he also made it clear before practice that he expects the kind of effort and intensity seen at midseason. He told the players that this is the time to win jobs, for the fall season and beyond.

“Defensively, we expect our guys to communicate, number one,” he said. “If you’re going to play defense for us and you’re not going to communicate, you’re not going to play defense for us. We want to see guys who can make plays. We want to see guys who don’t give up freebies. We want to see guys who back up bases. We want to see guys that are ready pre-pitch for every single ball that’s thrown.”

For Hayes, freebies are walks, wild pitches, hit batters, errors … things that you need to take advantage of when at the plate and try to avoid when in the field. They are critical to Hayes, who talks about them frequently. He also talked to his players about avoiding the big inning on defense and to his pitchers about his goal of no more than 15 pitches per inning.

Trojan Gold players will get the chance to show they were listening starting Saturday.

“Our goal this weekend is, number one, to get our team working together as one family once again,” Hayes said. “Number two, get our guys some game experience and, number three, get back to understanding and implementing the core values of our program.

“We will be mixing experienced guys and younger guys to help build our program back to what it was before COVID struck.”

Added Middleton: “Looking forward to getting on the field in Bullhead this weekend and playing a real baseball game against another team.”

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