They are the Crimson Bears, and they are the kings of clout in the state of Alaska for 2010, combining for a staggering 37 round-trippers in just 24 games this season.
Six of seven JDHS seniors have hit at least one home run, led by Dylan Baker's 13 and Aaron Cohen's nine. Cohen leads the Bears with 37 RBIs while Baker has 30, and JDHS hitters have driven in a mind-boggling 191 runners.
Where did this sudden surge of power come from?
Well, manager Steve Bavard credits the guys for "living in the batting cage," and the tutelage of hitting coach Will Race.
"You've got to give that guy a lot of credit for working with these guys. He's done some wonderful things with them," Bavard said of Race. "He played some college ball and he's a lefty with a sweet swing. He's passing that swing on to these young fellas and it's really nice to have him around. "(Assistant coach Matt) Thrasher and I teach batting a little bit, but he's the guru."
"Coach Bavard, the first thing he said when he took over was, 'State championships are won in the cage,'" Baker agreed. "Ever since, we've been in the cage as much as we can, and that's pretty much why we hit so well. We see the ball really well."
Baker, who hit just five home runs total before this season, credits watching another player take cuts during the team's spring break road trip to Arizona, and then tweaking his stance for his power surge.
"When we went to Arizona, there was a little home run derby, and this one kid hit the ball harder than any high school kid I've ever seen," said Baker, the Bears' leadoff hitter. "I switched my batting stance over to his, and I feel like I hit the ball a lot harder.
"I used to be a contact hitter and I never really hit home runs. I only hit three last year, two sophomore year, none freshman year and then 13 this year. That's quite a bit of difference."
Baker said he used to have a long stance, and now it's open and he stands more straight up.
"I can see the ball a little better since I'm more open," he said. "I can get both eyes on it instead of just one eye."
Cohen, the Bears' No. 3 hitter, belted a homer in each game of the conference tournament last weekend to raise his total on the year to nine.
"He hit one out in the road that bounced into the parking lot of the ANP over there (in Sitka)," Bavard said of Cohen. "It had to have been close to 400 feet. He hits them hard."
Unlike Baker, Cohen has been knocking balls out of the park since he was big enough to swing a bat.
"I hit my first home run when I was seven or eight years old in Farm League. I actually remember running around the bases yelling, 'I did it, I did it!' Dylan and I were actually on the same team back then; the Orioles," he said. "It's always been one of my favorite things to do.
"My most memorable one was when I was in Majors, and it was our All-Star game, Juneau East versus Juneau West. Kyle Fossman (who led Haines to the 3A basketball state championship this year) came in to pitch. He was the best pitcher in our league and he'd never given up a home run. The bases were loaded and I hit a grand slam. Everyone jumped on me at home plate and I still have the newspaper cut out in my room; 'The shot heard round the valley.'"
Cohen has now hit 24 home runs in his prep career, something opponents are well aware of.
"It's awesome because you get to be known and feared," he said. "I've hit third the past two years and you get intentionally walked and pitched around. I don't like it, but it's a sign of respect, I think. They know what I can do, and it's really cool having Alex (DeRocher) hit behind me. It's happened twice where I've been intentionally walked and he got the game-winning hit. He's really come through."
Another thing this team has going for it is its cohesiveness. There are seven seniors and six of them, aside from the more recently transplanted DeRocher, have been playing with or against each other since Tee Ball.
And, after all those years, this is it for this group, so they want to make it count.
"It means a lot to get to state, and it's even better to be undefeated. Dylan and I have always been two of the better players for our age, and Keath, Jamie, Dominic and Vinnie, we've all been playing together -xcept for Alex -or at least 10 years. It means a lot. We've played against each other and with each other. I think that says a lot and shows why we are doing so well.
"This team, for one of the first times in the past couple of years, is a family. Last year, we were kind of dysfunctional and there were some cogs that were not really meshing. I think that's what did it for us when everything fell apart there at the end. This year, everyone gets along, does their thing and contributes."
"I've coached teams that have had kids with attitudes, and this group has no attitude. It's really a great group to coach," he said. "They take care of each other. If someone's having a bad day, they don't let it get everybody down. It's just a wonderful group of kids," Bavard said.
But perhaps Baker said it best.
"It would be the greatest feeling ever. Winning state is just... awesome," he said. "We won as sophomores and that was the best thing ever. But as seniors, playing together our whole lives, it would mean so much more just to win it again.
"There could be nothingbetter."
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