By zach alvira, GSN Sports Editor

Jeff Holland doesn’t have to say much to motivate his Mesquite High baseball team.

As the school’s only baseball coach since it opened in 1998, Holland has established a culture of hard work and dedication.

“Tradition never graduates,” Holland said. “I will pull out stuff and just tell them that I don’t have a magical speech. I just tell them it’s going to be a dog fight and every team is out here to beat you and you’ve got to beat them.”

At 18-4 through 22 games, Mesquite has been involved of plenty of dog fights. The 4A Wildcats’ losses were to Hamilton, Basha, Desert Vista and Corona del Sol, top teams in larger 6A.

Close victories over fellow 4A contenders have showcased Mesquite’s resiliency in tough situations. Several times, the Wildcats have mauled teams, too.

“They’re hungry,” Holland said. “I tell them all the time to not let umpires or anybody else dictate the game. At the end of the day they’re playing against the white ball, which isn’t friendly at times.

“It’s about not taking anything for granted.”

It seems to be sinking in. Mesquite is the top-ranked team in 4A and third in the state, according to MaxPreps. The Wildcats have scored 10 or more runs in 10 games. They had outscored opponents 63-13 in their previous nine heading into a showdown April 4 with second-ranked Seton Catholic.

“We get two-out hits and pick each other up in the field,” senior pitcher and infielder TJ Clarkson said.

Clarkson is 5-0 on the mound with a 1.73 ERA in 36 1/3 innings. His 55 strikeouts are among the most in the state and he’s walked only 18.

At the plate, Clarkson has a .433 average in 60 at bats. He’s second on the team with 24 RBI and has a home run.

“I just try to hit the ball hard and throw strikes,” Clarkson said. “I know if I do that then good things will happen.”

In his fourth year on the varsity, the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder earned a full scholarship to the University of Utah.

Meanwhile, he and other Mesquite senior leaders focus on the task at hand: A state championship.

“It’s our last year in high school so we are going to give it everything we’ve got,” senior infielder Holden Breeze said. “That’s our goal. We’ve got to win state.”

Like Clarkson, Breeze has done damage to opposing pitchers. The South Mountain Community College commit has a .431 batting average in 72 at bats, producing 18 RBI and 3 home runs.

He, too, has been on the Mesquite varsity since his freshman year, when the Wildcats went 9-19. But as a starter since his sophomore year, he helped Mesquite turn it around and make the playoffs the past two seasons.

Mesquite fell short of the title game last year, when it lost to eventual champion Liberty in the semifinals after the Wildcats entered the tournament as the top seed.

They’ll likely be the top seed again. The program’s last state championship was four years ago, when the Wildcats were in the big-school division.

“A lot of these guys have been three-year starters,” Holland said. “Their maturity has helped out a lot. Nothing fazes them. They have one thing on their mind and hopefully they can get it this year.

“They want to finish the big dance.”

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at zalvira@timespublications.com and follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira