Daniel LaSalle almost winces as he recalls his first experience with Mojave baseball.
“I went and watched the game, and was just heartbroken, absolutely heartbroken,” LaSalle said.
LaSalle signed on as an assistant coach, became the head coach the following season and now, in his third year, has the Rattlers in the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
“My first year as an assistant coach, I had 10 kids on varsity and seven of them shouldn’t even have played,” LaSalle said. “It was going back to Little League basics. This is how you throw. This is how you catch. This is how you run bases.
“Now I have 18 kids on varsity and all of them can play.”
Mojave (16-14) plays at Boulder City (18-6-2) at 3:30 p.m. today in the opening round of the Division I-A Southern Region tournament. The Division I Sunrise and Sunset Region tournaments also begin today at host sites.
It certainly wasn’t an overnight transition for the Rattlers. In the three years before LaSalle came on board, Mojave was a combined 2-55-1, with both victories coming in the 2009 season.
But Mojave went 5-18 in LaSalle’s year as an assistant. The Rattlers were 6-19 in his first year as head coach, and 13-17 last season.
“It’s really great that every season you just see us progress forward and forward,” said senior Cory Tobin, who transferred from Legacy after his freshman year. “It’s something that you need to just appreciate that a program is growing. There’s going to be some challenges on the way to doing your best, but still, it’s just finding what you can do to help out.”
Having the same coach for more than one season certainly has been key to laying the foundation for the program’s success.
“They had a different coach every year,” LaSalle said. “The thing that kills a program is no continuity and no familiarity with the coaching staff. You come in, you have a certain philosophy and it changes next year and the next year and kids can’t trust this, and is he going to be here next year? I’ve been here every year. They know I’m going to be here next year. They know I’m going to be here the year after.”
LaSalle said players began to see what he was trying to build. Some, like Tobin, transferred in from other schools to be a part of it. Others, like freshman Rease McClain, chose to stay at their zoned school rather than try to find their way to a big-name program.
Still, those currently playing at Mojave have to fight off the ghosts from the past.
“All the stereotypes I heard my freshman year about this school, after the first year, you could easily tell it wasn’t true,” Tobin said. “This school is still living in a shadow that everybody thinks it’s just another school from the ’hood, where really, this school has risen up so much from it.”
McClain said other teams finally are starting to notice that it’s not the same old Mojave.
“A lot of times when you go into games, the team thinks down on you,” McClain said. “But when we started winning a lot, we kind of spooked everybody.”
LaSalle said the stereotypes and name-calling remains, but the Rattlers have embraced their underdog role.
“I always tell the kids, it doesn’t matter what people think about us,” LaSalle said. “They can call you other school’s castoffs. We get called all kinds of things. You’re taking other school’s garbage. Well my ‘garbage’ has got us to the playoffs.”
LaSalle said he had only 19 players come out for the varsity and junior varsity his first season. This year, he said almost 70 came out.
Assistant coach Craig Tobin, Cory’s father, said there were more than 40 players working with the team in the offseason. LaSalle said Craig Tobin has spent countless hours working to remake a field that was once brown and riddled with weeds.
“In prior years, we were lucky if we had two or three,” Craig Tobin said of the offseason workouts. “That’s when I knew that the younger kids, they’re seeing the field, they’re seeing kids come out here practicing and working and they want to be a part of it.”
And though postseason wins certainly would be nice, Craig Tobin said the team already has made its mark.
“To tell you the truth, I think we’ve already accomplished what we needed to accomplish this year,” Craig Tobin said. “We’ve shown that we can do some stuff here with what little we have.”
Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4587. Follow him on Twitter: @DamonSeiters.