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Las Vegas baseball players excel at Mesa Community College

It used to be that strength in numbers was an expression.

That was before the Mesa (Arizona) Community College baseball team turned it into a blueprint for success as it applies to recruiting players from Nevada.

In 2014, the Thunderbirds had nine such players, including eight from Southern Nevada, and won the NJCAA Division II JUCO World Series.

This season, Mesa CC has seven locals and is ranked No. 2 in the nation.

“Over the years we’ve had a lot of success with kids coming from Vegas,” Mesa CC assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Doug Rose said in a phone conversation. “The kids from Las Vegas just seem to have an edge (when it comes to) competing.”

The U.S. 93 pipeline began to flow after Mesa coach Tony Cirelli started following the progress of Jake Hager of Sierra Vista High, his cousin and 2011 Tampa Bay Rays’ first-round draft pick. Bonanza’s Kyler Newby and Bobby McMurray were the first two Las Vegans to star at Mesa since Marty and Tommy Barrett during the late 1970s.

The current ones, listed in order of their Mesa jersey numbers, are Alex Elizondo, a catcher from Foothill; Taylor Darden, an infielder from Coronado; Jacob Bavarro, a pitcher from Durango; Kaeden Camat-Toki, an outfielder from Liberty; Erik Dulittle, a pitcher from Spring Valley; Kelton Lachelt, a pitcher from Foothill; and Braxton Bruschke, a pitcher from Spring Valley.

Darden, who is batting .404 and has signed to play at Incarnate Word, an NCAA Division I member of the Southland Conference, is the headliner among the locals. Darden played on last year’s Mesa team that lost to Northern Oklahoma Enid in the NJCAA Division II championship game.

Part of Mesa’s proud baseball tradition is sending alumni to the big leagues. In addition to the Barretts, who spent 13 combined seasons in the majors (Marty 10, Tommy 3), other former Thunderbirds stalwarts include Hubie Brooks, Dave Collins, Mickey Hatcher and Ken Phelps.

Around the horn

— In addition to its JUCO World Series success, the Mesa CC diamond was the site of a popular Red Bull commercial in which another Las Vegan, Chicago Cubs slugger Kris Bryant, donned a disguise and tried to prank the team.

Bryant was introduced as a midseason transfer from overseas named Roy Nabryt. Rose, who appears in the spot, said the script was Cirelli’s idea.

“He’s a big donkey who’s got crazy power,” Cirelli warned his players, adding that the big kid from overseas probably was going to rob some guys of playing time.

— In discussing his 2014 national championship squad, Cirelli said all of the good ballplayers in Las Vegas can’t go to College of Southern Nevada.

This season, there are 15 on the CSN roster. The Coyotes, who started the season ranked No. 12 in the NJCAA’s Division I, are 16-8 after beating the College of Southern Idaho on Thursday and twice Friday at Morse Stadium in Henderson.

— North Carolina produces the most NASCAR drivers per capita, with 2.99 per every million residents. No surprise there. Nevada is No. 2 with 2.97, which surely must come as a shock to stock car racing’s Alabama Gang.

— Leftovers from the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway won by Joey Logano for the second straight year: There were 25 passes for the lead, the most at LVMS since 2007, and 83.5 percent of respondents to The Athletic’s “Was it a good race?” poll replied in the affirmative.

That was second to the 84 percent who said they liked the 2018 fall LVMS race in which a blistering track and tires caused a bunch of wrecks.

— Congratulations to Carolyn Swords on her retirement from the Aces and on her new assignment with the WNBA team’s marketing department. During her two years with the team, the Boston College graduate spent so much time in the community that she often was mistaken as a census taker or a tall pizza delivery person.


— Something to consider when the Oakland A’s and Cleveland Indians are sending out guys wearing high jersey numbers to pitch during Big League Weekend at Las Vegas Ballpark: There were 45 complete games in the major leagues in 2019. In 1980, the A’s had 94 by themselves.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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