After two years of coming oh-so-close, the Juneau-Douglas High School baseball team realized its goal last June when it won the state championship.
Now comes the hard part - repeating.
The Crimson Bears open their season at 6 p.m. on Wednesday when they host the Ketchikan Kings in a Region V game at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. The junior varsity teams play at 2 p.m.
Between Wednesday and Saturday, Juneau will play its only four home games of the season - two against Ketchikan and two against the Sitka Wolves, with one varsity game each day for the Crimson Bears. Ketchikan and Sitka will play three games against each other during the weekend. A complete schedule for the weekend is in Sports in Juneau on Page B2.
"Particularly after last year, what we want to do is go out and play our best ball," Juneau coach Jim Ayers said. "It's harder because everyone's out to get you. Ketchikan's got some good arms in Caleb Mickel and Kraig Bailey, and Sitka's got a good young team that's fast and has good hands."
As they prepare to open the season, the Crimson Bears said a lesson they learned early last year is still in their minds. Before heading to Ketchikan to open the 2002 season, the Juneau players predicted an undefeated record in addition to the state title. The first prediction was lost in Juneau's season-opener, an 11-8 loss that left the Crimson Bears humbler and wiser.
"It was definitely important losing that first game of the season," senior first baseman-pitcher Evan Scandling said after Friday night's Crimson and Black scrimmage. "What will be the thing that kills us is getting overconfident. Our only weakness is if we get overconfident."
"Jim's really talked to us about taking things one game at a time," senior third baseman-pitcher Zach Kohan said. "He made that really clear. That's why we're working so hard. We have to look out for both of them (Ketchikan and Sitka). We definitely have a level of being confident, but we're not going to win unless we work hard."
While the Crimson Bears lost a handful of seniors from last year's roster to graduation - including University of Dayton pitcher Dylan Hickey, Eastern Oregon University quarterback Brett Fairchild and Orange Coast College wide receiver Jake Dutton - this year's team is pretty loaded.
All four infielders are returning seniors, led by shortstop Joe Ayers, who has signed an NCAA National Letter of Intent to play baseball for Stanford University next year. Second baseman-pitcher Nick Wolf is the fourth infielder, and he's taken over the usual leadoff spot in the batting order that Ayers held his first three years (Ayers will bat third this year).
Four other seniors are on the varsity roster - catcher Isaac Cadiente, outfielder-catcher-pitcher Bud Baun, pitcher Bryan Hamey and outfielder-pitcher Chad DuBois. Cadiente and Baun were on last year's team, while Hamey (basketball) and DuBois (football) are returning to baseball after success in other sports.
There are five juniors on the roster - infielder Erik Scholl, pitcher Matt Greely, outfielder-infielder C.J. Keys, outfielder-pitcher Sergio Magallanes and pitcher Geno Vick (who may see some time with the junior varsity team). Rounding out the varsity roster are sophomores Chris Dillon (catcher), Ryan Gorle (outfielder) and Zach Mixson (first baseman-pitcher).
"Some of the guys from a couple of years ago might disagree - like Chad (Bentz) and Garrett (Schoenberger) - but I think this is potentially the best senior class we've ever had at Juneau," Joe Ayers said. "We've got six or seven guys who could end up playing college baseball, and with Matt Freeman and Willy Race (two players who would be seniors but have moved to Florida and Arizona, respectively) we could end up with eight or nine in college. Then we've got younger guys like Sergio and Schollsy who are playing great for us, filling in for the seniors we lost. Our seniors have been playing together so long, we know what we're doing before we do it."
"Our whole infield from last year is back, but we're trying not to get overconfident," Wolf said. "We're just looking for some games. We're finally ready to go."
While the Crimson Bears have yet to play as the high school team, many of the same players traveled with a Midnight Suns baseball program group to Peoria, Ariz., in late March. The Suns posted a 3-1-1 record against teams from Oregon, Colorado and Arizona at the Flying Dog Invitational.
During that trip, Baun hit a long homer and a couple of doubles off the wall, Wolf got on base a lot to start rallies and lefty pitchers Scandling and Magallanes had strong outings for Juneau. Joe Ayers, who had just finished the basketball season the day before heading to Arizona, was slow getting started, but by the end of the trip was driving in runs. Ayers hit a towering shot halfway up the trees beyond the centerfield fence during Friday's scrimmage.
"We looked all right down south," Jim Ayers said. "Evan was clearly the ace of the staff, but Zach was throwing in the 80s and Greely kept batters off balance with his side-arm motion. I think these guys have their heads on, and their goal is playing for the state title. But they know they've got 14 games to get to state and they have to play them one at a time. They can't go to state if they don't win these games."
After this weekend's series in Juneau, the Crimson Bears hit the road the rest of the season. Juneau plays at Sitka on May 8-10, at Prince of Wales on May 21 and at Ketchikan on May 22-24. The state tournament this year will be on June 5-6 in Fairbanks, and only the top team from Region V gets to go to state.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.