Young talent steps into JDHS baseball spotlight

Though the Juneau-Douglas High School baseball team’s roster only includes two seniors this year, but the team believes it has the rising talent to make it out of the Southeast Conference and into the state tournament.

Six returning starters and a large class of sophomores fill out the Crimson Bears’ roster as they open their regular season with a doubleheader Monday at 4 and 7 p.m. against Petersburg High School.

“They’re young and enthusiastic,” coach Will Race said. “We’ve got all the potential in the world, it’s just their decision whether they want to be champions.”

Senior outfielder Alex Muir’s enthusiasm resembled his coach’s.

“We have one of the best pitchers in the state right here,” Muir said, pointing to his teammate, junior Bryce Swofford. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in him, and our infield, which is really good.”

In addition to Muir, the Crimson Bears other senior is newcomer Devin Williams, an outfielder, who both Muir and Swofford say has performed well in practice.

Swofford, for his part, is striving for consistency this year.

“I don’t have too many personal goals, but getting to state is one,” Swofford said, adding that his focus is, “playing the same way for every single game: with intensity.”

The Crimson Bears finished third in the state last year, and graduated four players, several of whom were pitchers in JDHS’ starting rotation. The Crimson Bears look to replenish their pitching staff this season with the leading play of Swofford and their talented, but somewhat inexperienced, sophomore class.

“Bryce (Swofford) is our leading pitcher. Our other pitchers are all sophomores, so it will be a good experience for them,” Race said. “That’s kind of the goal this season, to get enough experience going into the playoffs that everyone feels comfortable. All of the sophomore pitchers pitched last year but it was behind Bryce, Nathan Klein and Jacob Thibodeau.”

Klein and Thibodeau graduated last year.

If JDHS is to make it to the state tournament, they’ll have to pass Ketchikan High School, a senior-heavy team featuring the state’s reigning Gatorade Player of the Year, pitcher Nathan Bonck. Ketchikan finished sixth in the state tournament last year, but the Kings are an early favorite to win the state title this season.

As if Kayhi wasn’t enough of a challenge, JDHS will have to contend with a young Thunder Mountain High School team who gave Ketchikan a scare last weekend, out-hitting the Kings in both of their opening weekend losses.

JDHS doesn’t plan on doing anything drastically different facing some stiff inter-conference competition, and believes in their team’s defensive focus. With the return of long-time coach Jim Ayers, however, they’ve made a few adjustments.

“Coach Ayers, he came up and has been helping us out a lot with our batting and just with our whole team philosophy,” Muir said. “He’s been switching things up and breaking things down for us. … Coach Ayers talks a lot about no one left behind, doing everything as a team.”

“Our plan every year is solid defense and solid pitching, and that’s what we focus most of our practices around. We’ve switched it up this year with hitting, we’ve got a new plan, but we really focus on low errors, low scoring games,” Race said.

JDHS opens their season with games at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Monday against Petersburg. The Crimson Bears play Petersburg again at 6 p.m. Tuesday. All games are at Adair-Kennedy Field.