After coming tantalizingly close to a state championship last season, the Juneau-Douglas High School baseball team finds themselves in the midst of a youth movement.
Juneau opens the baseball season today and Saturday with doubleheaders at Southeast rival Wrangell.
JDHS, who finished third in the state last year, is chock full of freshmen and sophomores who will be filling in key roles in the lineup.
Despite the team's relative youth, senior leader Zach Mixson and assistant coach Bill McCauley expressed confidence about the team's maturity and ability.
"Practice has been great because even though the kids are young they've been pretty mature," McCauley said. "I think that translates a lot [into games]. It's all behavior during games. No matter what happens, if they're mature they'll keep each other in the game and that's huge."
With seven underclassmen, including three freshmen, on the opening day roster the Bears will be relying on the younger players for production.
Mixson, a pitcher and first baseman for the Bears, didn't know what to expect from the newcomers at the beginning of spring practices. After watching how the underclassmen handled themselves on the field, however, Mixson believes in the youth movement.
"At first I thought I didn't know what to think," Mixson said. "The results have been great. Buzz Ward and Joe Kohan are really talented freshmen. The sophomores are quite talented themselves. [Sophomore] Ryan Beason can pitch and hit. I'm liking what I'm seeing."
Kohan joins his older brother, Pat, on the squad and is slated to pitch and play shortstop.
Joe is penciled in as a starting pitcher on Saturday and although he admitted he's a bit nervous, he knows he has teammates to rely on.
"I don't want to make any mistakes in front of the coaches," Kohan said. "But it's a team effort, right? Mixson and them are going to pick you up. They're great examples."
Joining Mixson as the team's seniors are catcher Chris Dillon, center fielder Ryan Gorle and designated hitter Jacob Ridle.
Mixson is slated to bat in the three-hole and figures to be a key run-producer in the Bears' lineup. The senior doesn't plan on being the team's lone power hitter, however.
"People I didn't think had pop maybe hit the weight room and are showing some pop," Mixson said. "Pat Kohan, who used to be just a line drive hitter, has more pop more regularly. Jake Ridle has one of the nicest swings on the team and has natural loft. Nathaniel Jacobsen, pound-for-pound, is probably the most powerful hitter on the team."
Tonight's opponent, Wrangell, makes its varsity debut after going 14-1 on the junior varsity last year.
With only four series against Southeast opponents, the Bears know that each game is critical if they want a shot at a state championship.
"Everybody understands the situation in Southeast," McCauley said. "You've got to win in Southeast. We're only going to play each team one series. Every series is important and everyone understands the importance of it."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org