Two years removed from state high school baseball and softball championships; Juneau-Douglas High School will open their home season tonight in a preview of what the season holds. The Crimson Bears boys will face perennial Cook Inlet Conference powerhouse Chugiak, from Anchorage; and the girls host Fairbanks’ Lathrop.
The Crimson Bears graduated nine players from their hardball team and a roster full from the softball side. Known for reloading with seniors, this year marks just four for the boys and two for the girls.
For the boys only two full-time starters return on the mound in, arguably, the state’s toughest region as seven of the 12 state championships are divided between Juneau (4) and Sitka (3).
JDHS baseball coach Sheldon Winters believes Sitka is the preseason favorite (with 7 solid returners) and the Wolves recently blasted West High by over 10 runs in each of three games played.
Ketchikan will be competitive as well and third year program Thunder Mountain returns the most varsity athletes in southeast.
Crimson Bears seniors Lance Ibesate, Ryan Kelly, Brenden Winters and Josh Magnuson will lead the squad. Ibesate is the best shortstop in the state, Kelly anchors the team at catcher and is the best all-around fielder, Winters plays the hot corner and Magnuson will cover the outfield.
“This is the youngest varsity team I have been on,” Kelly said. “But we have worked the hardest and should be able to get the job done.”
Juniors consist of Jeff Pusich (first base), Tanner Petrie (first and outfield, Kyle Gould (second base), Jackson Lehnhart (outfield), Tod Baseden (outfield), Tal Norvell (outfield and second), Christian Gould (third), and Kurt Vandor (outfield and first). Kellen Johansen is the lone sophomore, and Nathan Klein wears the huge potential sign.
Klein is the first freshman to make the varsity since Kelly four years ago and is a raw talent with a strong arm the team hopes to develop at catcher.
“The kids have the skills,” Winters said. “It is just a question of whether they choose to play fundamental baseball and make the basic plays.”
Defensively the team must improve from last year to move farther in the state venue. The pitching staff is also in need of a third and fourth rotation. Ibesate and Magnuson both notched three victories last year including gutsy pitching in two of JDHS’ three do-or-die games on the last day of the southeast championship. Petrie, Pusich, Winters and Klein may toe the rubber along with relief support from Norvel, Lehnhart, Vandor and the Gould’s.
Hitting is not in doubt after the hardest offseason workout program Winters has seen in his four years with the program and new coach Will Race. For the past two seasons Race has been hitting instructor and those teams tied for the highest batting averages in team history.
“Will is a remarkable coach,” Winters said. “He really steps up our program in more ways than just hitting. We are lucky to have him.”
During the recent road trip to Arizona, Lehnhart hit over .600 and Baseden over .700. Baseden, a JDHS hockey player as well, made the sunny all-tourney team as well.
“I guess I may be spending more time at the ice arena this winter,” Winters said.
The Crimson Bears seniors are concentrating on the here and know, not the previous two undefeated conference seasons.
“That is not one of our goals and it’s not something we talk about,” Ibesate said. “Our goal is to win a state championship and to get there we set smaller goals like winning the conference for the number one seed at regional’s, and playing every conference game to win and to continue to improve. If we go undefeated, that’s nice, but it’s not something we’re focused on.”
Added classmate Brendan Winters, “Each team is different and it is our turn to step up and make our own mark. This years team has our name on it and we want to go out with our own state championship or at least with no regrets in our effort.”
If history is going to repeat itself, this is the Crimson Bears girl’s softball team’s turn again. They won state titles in 2008 and 2010, skipping those odd years. This is 2012, another even calendar for a team that is solid across the field (JDHS did get titles in ‘99, ‘02, ‘04, ‘05, and ‘07 and have played in 11 of the 16 state title games).
A strong point should be the battery rotation with senior hurler Ashli Ellen Kikendall, junior Malin Murray, sophomore’s Kayla Balovich. Gracie Meiners, Ashley Buck, and freshman Savanna Schauwecker. Those six will be called upon to hold down batters until the field is settled.
Final positioning was not available via press time. The roster is rounded out with senior Savannah Dindinger-Hill; junior Rachel Doogan; sophomores Breanne Chapman, Kaitlin Fagerstrom, Emma Good, Andrea Gordon, Brandi Hall, Randi Held; and freshmen Samantha Heidersdorf, Toni Kelly, Abby Maloney, Alicia Norton, Emily Reyes, Monika Rivera, Rachelle Roldan, and Morgan Spargo.
Thunder Mountain’s softball team has four varsity seniors: Devyn Kubley (Pitcher & third), Joanna Villaverde (catcher), Sarah Nierra (second & RF), and Jordyn Campbell (catcher & RF). Juniors are: Casey Hansen (CF, LF), Megan Punongbayan (second, LF), Michelle Manning (first, third), Kassi Dindinger-Hill (third, RF), Sophomores: Ashley Boucher (Pitcher & 1st), Jodi Mesdag (short, CF). Freshmen: Heather Alducin (S.S, Pitcher & 3rd), Emma Bullock (Pitcher, 2nd, & SS), Elle Gray (RF), Martha Bullock (third). Falcons JV are seniors Megan Clough (OF), Nicole Brown (SS), and Sidney Kresbach (RF); juniors Angel Montgomery (third, first), Cassandra Suryan (second), Katherine Wray (CF), Rasa Bruvere (RF); Sophomores Kelsielynn Perfors (first), Korrianna Mitchell (catcher), Ryian Jurasz (OF), Sadie Wells (Pitcher), Shayla Reeves (CF), Sophia Gore (catcher); Freshmen Eileen Keim (OF), Nicolette Chappelle (CF), Summer Smith (RF).
The JDHS JV baseball roster is coached by Mark Pusich; they are Grant Ainsworth, Fred Collier, Michael Daale, Jimmy Diamond, Joe Greenough, Jasper MacNaughton, Brady Mallinger, Julian Minne, Sylvester Olivares, Chris Rodriguez, Curtis Stickler, Taylor Swofford, Jacob Thibodeau and Jack Withington.