The outfield of the Mesa Community College baseball field at the Southern and Dobson campus on, Feb. 22, 2023 (Photo byJordan Bell/The Mesa Legend)

Mesa Community College baseball team prepares for the start of conference play

The Mesa Community College baseball team will begin conference play against Paradise Valley Community College on Friday, Feb. 9 after beginning the season 5-2.

The final non-conference game, scheduled for Feb. 7 against Ottawa University, was canceled due to inclement weather. 

 The schedule so far has provided an opportunity for the coaching staff to experiment with pitching lineups and rotations.

“We are getting to see some of the pitching, we’ve run those guys out, that’s our big question is the pitching. We’ve had some kids that pitched pretty well, and some kids that have not been consistent,” said head coach Tony Cirelli.

Eric Nachtsheim, a sophomore right handed pitcher, has been one of MCC’s most impressive pitchers on the roster so far. 

Nachtsheim leads the team in innings pitched at 8.1, however he also leads the team in strikeouts, has not allowed a run yet and has allowed only two bases on balls.

Nachtsheim was among multiple pitchers who benefited from getting extended repetitions during the 2022-2023 season as a freshman.

The starting lineup to begin conference play will be Nachtsheim, sophomore Troy Benko, sophomore Connor Doolittle, and freshman Ty Johnson, according to Cirelli.

“That’s a good start, those kids have all had good falls. Three of them are sophomores that pitched a lot as freshmen,” said Cirelli.

There was room for improvement in rounding out a bullpen rotation, as well as limiting the amount of walks given up during contests. 

The team allowed eight walks in their loss against Park University on Jan. 30, as well as seven walks in their loss to Ottawa University on Feb. 6.

The Thunderbirds are tied with Arizona Western College and Pima Community College for the most sacrifice hits in the conference with five.

“Bunting is a big [and] important part of the game. We’ve spent a lot of time on that. We’ve had safety squeezes, we’ve had sacrifices, bunt for base hits, so that’s part of our game and running the bases,” said Cirelli. 

The team also ranks second in the conference in stolen bases with 37 as Glendale Community College sits at first place in the category with 52, though they have played two more games than MCC.

Cirelli believed the start of conference should not be a factor in the performance of the team.

“There shouldn’t be. We talk about playing against the game. We’re not playing Park University, we’re not playing ACCAC conference [opponents], we’re playing against the game,” said Cirelli.

Cirelli noted the pitching as an area that the team wanted to improve in and the non-conference schedule offered an opportunity to test out lineups and rotations.

The schedule also tested the team’s defense, which Cirelli believes is a particular strength of the team.

“We’re playing pretty good defense. The guys up the middle are good, we have a lot of returning sophomores playing so I like our lineup. We really improved our defense in the outfield and it’s much better, much improved,” said Cirelli.

The schedule already has dates allotted for the rescheduling of canceled or postponed games. However, Cirelli noted that adding additional games to a four game week schedule can strain the starting pitching rotation and cause a disruption in athletes’ rhythm.

The team looks to improve from their 22-33 record in 2023, the lowest winning percentage during Cirelli’s tenure which began in 1995.

Their first conference game will be at Paradise Valley Community College on Friday, Feb. 9, with their first home conference game taking place on Saturday, Feb. 10 against PVCC.

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