Prep baseball: East eager to establish consistency to make move in 4A

Prep baseball • East started region play 2-3.
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The East Leopards take cuts at balls and each other outside the batting cages on The Hill.

Baseball team members jostle for position inside the cage while joking and pushing each other. The language is rough and unguarded, but it is underlined with affection. Captain Jeff Gilstrap is in the middle of the horseplay, and that's where the shortstop wants to be.

East started 2-3 in region play, but Gilstrap believes his team is ready to make a move toward a Class 4A title run. He said his teammates have the communication skills to fight off adversity, which makes the Leopards a dangerous team.

"We treat each other like brothers," Gilstrap said. "That's why we're hard on each other. We take care of ourselves, picking each other up because every guy wants to be here."

The leadoff hitter is the face of a hard-nosed program that is using toughness to its advantage. Gilstrap, who plans to attend Southern Idaho next year, likes how the Leopards have jelled as a group.

"It's overcoming small challenges that helps us — getting the right bunt down, fielding the right play," he said. "We're coming together at the right time."

Brothers Isaac and Zach Valles are rotating starts on the mound. Older brother Isaac is a three-pitch guy who throws in the high 70s. The junior right-hander who works a fastball, curveball and splitter is finding a lot of success with his new split-finger fastball.

"It's not traditional," Isaac Valles said. "People are expecting a different speed pitch but get surprised how the splitter dies down. It's a pretty hard pitch to hit when they're not expecting it."

Sophomore Zach Valles is taking cues from his brother. He is working to build arm strength and accuracy. The Valles brothers throw with each other all the time, something that Zach knows will help him.

"He shows me how to do a lot of things — the right grip, motion," Zach said. "Being around the older guys is helping me learn how to play the game right."

Gilstrap credits coach Terry Harward with setting the example for the players. He said Harward demands that players respect the game and the program. Players who show up three minutes late can be sent home or never leave the bench.

"His toughness makes us want to play better," Gilstrap said. "He makes you want to respect yourself and do your best."

Isaac Valles agreed.

"He's demanding," Isaac said. "He's the kind of guy we want to play for. Coach doesn't take any crap."