Despite losing a strong senior class which included the state player of the year, the Juneau-Douglas High School baseball team figures to be in the hunt for a Southeast Conference title and possibly more this season.
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Armed with a deep and powerful lineup, the Crimson Bears ability to put up bunches of runs this year may spell trouble for opponents. If the pitching can compliment the team's lineup, JDHS may be poised for something big.
"I think our chances (for a title) are good," JDHS senior third baseman Pat Kohan said. "We have a lot of talented young guys and some veteran leadership that could help in the last couple games when we really need it."
Offensively, Pat and his brother, Joe Kohan, are capable of big things. The brothers will be anchoring the left side of the infield this year when neither is pitching.
Assistant coach Bill McCauley said he's been looking for someone to take over the leadership role for this team, and mentions that player may be Pat Kohan.
"He's a natural leader and a very mature kid," McCauley said.
The Bears will also need contributions from seniors Derek Listberger, Andrew Hall, and a talented trio of sophomores - Joe Kohan, Buzz Ward and Shawn Ibesate - if they want to go far in 2006.
"Andrew and Buzz have really been impressive with their bats; turning into good power hitters," Pat Kohan said.
Many of the players have been training since last fall in anticipation of this season. Alaska's own Jamar Hill, currently playing minor league ball for the New York Mets, was in town this winter and spent a lot of time with Juneau-Douglas players, hitting with the team in a batting cage before reporting to Port St. Lucie, Fla.
This spring, the Crimson Bears traveled to Scottsdale, Ariz., and won two-of-three games. Since the team has yet to practice outside, JDHS must rely on that game experience early this season.
"This year we've taken baseball very seriously as a team and we have high expectations," Pat Kohan said.
There's a changing of the guard behind the home plate this year. Junior Nano Jacobsen takes over for the graduated Chris Dillon, who is currently playing baseball at Tufts University in Boston.
"He didn't play catcher much, if any, last year, but he is by far our best catcher," McCauley said. "He's really good."
As a catcher, Jacobsen will be asked to direct what coaches think will be a strong defense.
Gary Stephens will handle backup catching duties and will spell Jacobsen periodically through the season.
On the mound, there will be big shoes to fill with the departure of former Gatorade State Player of the Year Zach Mixson.
McCauley has been encouraged by what he saw from his staff on their spring trip.
The pitching staff includes Pedro Mojica, Joe Kohan, Andrew Hall, Sean Lindsey, Pat Kohan, Clae Baker and Ryan Beason. With no clear ace thus far, the Bears are eager to see which players will rise to the occasion.
"Pedro really stepped forward when we were down in Scottsdale with a nice performance," McCauley said of who may surprise this year. "We'd sure like to see that continue.
The younger Kohan will be asked to assume a more central role on the mound this year as well. He did make several good starts last year as a freshman and has a live arm.
"Everybody's pretty confident playing behind him," Pat Kohan said.
JDHS will also carry freshmen Sean Bavard, Corey Mahar and Dakotah Smith on the roster, giving the team depth.
This year, the Southeast Conference will feature six teams, including Juneau-Douglas, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Prince of Wales, Petersburg and the defending state champions, Sitka.
With Wrangell and Prince of Wales joining the conference this season, the schedule now starts earlier and the teams will play 18 Southeast games. As a grand finale, Juneau will host the inaugural Southeast Conference tournament on May 24-27.
The JDHS baseball team kicks off its regular-season schedule today with a three-game set versus host Petersburg. Joe Kohan gets the starting nod for today's game at 6 p.m.