Second best in the nation

The Mesa Community College (MCC) baseball team has ranked second of 135 Division II baseball teams in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).

Before a ball was thrown or a bat swung, the Thunderbirds were ranked third, but following a season starting ten-game winning streak, they have firmly held the second rank for three straight weeks. 

“It’s a nice honor, but it’s not something that we’re out on the field focusing on. We’re just trying to win as many ball games as we can,” catcher Caleb Lumbard said.

Overall, the T-birds have bolstered their way to a 14-1 season record. Even though their play against conference opponents is still in its infancy, they have won three out of four conference games. 

Mesa was one of the top 20 best teams selections in the division.The D-II’s seven committee members, a mix of athletics directors and commissioners, vote at the end of the week after looking at the team’s performances. For this week, all committee members chose Louisiana State University Eunice as the number one team with MCC in second.

While the NJCAA examines junior college teams throughout the country and divides them into separate divisions, MCC is also a top four team in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference (ACCAC) which encompasses 14 community college baseball teams in Arizona.  Since 2014, Head Coach Tony Cirelli’s team has yet to fall below fifth place in the ACCAC standings. 

“We have a target on our back, because everyone wants to beat us,” Cirelli said. “It’s nice that people have respect for our program and we do things right.” 

Along with its overall ranking the red-and-white clad T-birds 201 hits put them atop the NJCAA DII teams and second in runs scored with 139. 

Of pitchers with the most wins in DII schools, four of the top five hurlers belong to MCC. Despite this overall success, the secret may also be the decision to ignore the praise. 

“I think if you’re always thinking about how we’re ranked second in the nation, it can get in your head,” Caleb Lumbard said. “You might take other teams that aren’t ranked as high as you lightly and result in losing ball games.”

While the ranks change from week to week, MCC has always had their presence in the top 20 list. Since 2014 the team has finished the season as a ranked team three times, which can be beneficial for  future players and notoriety.

“The kids like it, and it’s good for recruiting, but you gotta go out there and go out and do it on the field,” Cirelli said. 

The season is still young and the challenge for the T-birds may be about staying ranked with 50 games to go. The Thunderbirds will return home on March 4 to face the Chandler-Gilbert Community College Coyotes with the first pitch at 3 p.m.

About Author

Aaron Decker is the Sports Editor at the Mesa Legend. He absolutely love sports. He grew up an avid fan of the Pittsburgh Steeler's and moved to Phoenix in 2002, beginning his journey as an Arizona Diamondback fan. When not writing, going to school or watching sports, he is playing his favorite hobby, video games. You can follow him on Twitter @ADecker1138.