Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Mountain View's junior pitcher and first baseman Garry Gwaltney, left, and senior catcher Tyler Bethune are off to a 4-0 start this season. Bethune and Gwaltney have been a part of the team since the beginning of the schools 3 year existence.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Though it is playing just its third season of varsity baseball, Mountain View's fast start this year is not unprecedented.
Just a year ago, in its first season at the state's highest classification, the Bears won their first five games as part of a 7-2 start that included winning its first-ever Region 7-AAAAA over eventual region runner-up Duluth, only to drop their next five games en route to a 10-16 finish.
The start to the 2012 campaign has been even better, with Monday's 6-1 win over Duluth in the region opener making Mountain View a perfect 7-0.
The Bears still face a rematch with the Wildcats today, as well as the rest of the always-difficult region schedule.
Still, they are out to prove that this year's fast start is for real, and they have every confidence they will do so.
"Our guys are a little bit more confident this year," Mountain View coach Jason Johnson said. "They worked hard in the offseason to get bigger and stronger. Last year, our goal was to be able to compete at ... the AAAAA level with teams in our region, but we really weren't big and strong enough to compete with those guys ... on a daily basis. But (we) do feel ... like every time we go out there and toe the rubber or step in the box, we have a chance against anybody we play this year."
Based on their performance so far, there appears to be good reason for the Bears' increased confidence.
A strong batting order led by seniors Tyler Bethune (.444, 1 HR, 6 RBIs) and Brandon Griffin (.409) and juniors Peyton Fore (.450), Beau Blair (.364, 1 HR, 5 RBIs) and Garry Gwaltney (.316, 6 RBIs) have provided Mountain View with plenty of offensive depth.
On the mound, the Bears have been equally deep with seven different pitchers having made at least two outings on a staff that has allowed just 2.3 runs per game and hold a staff earned run average of 1.57, led by right-handers Blair (2-0, 0.54 ERA, 10 K, 13 IP), A.J. Moore (2-0, 0.88, 11 K, 8 IP) and Gwaltney (2-0, 1.83, 7 K, 7 IP) and left-hander Kyle Mitchell (0-0, 2 saves, 6 K, 3 IP).
The team's depth and confidence have not developed overnight. It's been a slow process since the program began when Mountain View opened up two years ago.
And there have been plenty of growing pain, from the initial 6-20 season as a Class AAA team in 2010 to last season's initiation into a region that has been among the toughest in the state's largest classification year in and year out -- a move that proved to be somewhat of a culture shock early last season.
"Our first year, we could miss (location) every once in a while," Gwaltney said of the step up in competition from a pitcher's perspective. "Now, we've got much better hitters (to face). You've got to hit your spots and work hard to keep the ball in play. It was intimidating at first, but once you start going in the game, everything starts to calm down. Once you find out you can get (hitters) out, you start to calm down a little bit."
It wasn't easy, as the Bears still finished last in the region with a 3-14 mark.
However, they slowly but surely began to show they could compete with the big boys.
A one-run loss in a later game against Duluth -- which, by that time, was in contention for the region lead -- and an upset win over North Gwinnett -- which, like Duluth, advanced to the second round of last year's state playoffs -- further boosted their confidence.
"That was a game where everything kind of came together for us," Johnson said of the resounding 11-1 win over the Bulldogs on March 28 of last year. "I would say, if we had to define one game last year where we were actually able to execute our entire approach, that was it. We hit a lot of balls the other way. We battled all night and had a lot of great at bats. And we got great pitching and great defense. So, that game definitely gave us a lot of confidence."
Still, the task now is a much bigger one for the Bears.
They must continue to build on that victory and their fast start to this season in order to continue to earn what they desire the most -- respect.
And while opening the region schedule with another win over No. 6 state-ranked Duluth was a big step in that direction, the Bears know they must continue to prove themselves, especially with a rematch against the Wildcats -- this time on the road -- and two games against defending region champion and state quarterfinalist Mill Creek immediately on the horizon.
"This will definitely be a good measuring stick for us," senior catcher Bethune, who is mulling over scholarship offers from Tusculum and Lipscomb, said of Mountain View's upcoming stretch. "We've still got to go out and do our job. We need to make a statement these next couple of games."