Carter Rusch looks around the field, nods his head and notes that it’s finally time for Juanita High’s 10 seniors to shine on the baseball field. They’ve got five juniors and a sophomore along for the ride, and the Rebels are ready to make an impact in the 3A KingCo Conference this season.
Last year, Juanita finished third in the KingCo tournament and senior infielder/pitcher Rusch said they want to climb farther up the ranks this spring.
“We’re just getting after it every day, and we just gotta stay up because the KingCo conference is real tough and anybody can beat anybody. I’m confident that if we take care of our own business that we’re gonna a have good shot every game,” said the four-year varsity player. “I definitely think we have the talent to do some big things.”
At post time, the Rebels were hot out of the gate with a 4-0 preseason record, featuring wins over Tahoma (9-2), Capital (12-5), Shorewood (4-2) and Inglemoor (11-4).
Against Capital, Tanner Peterson had four hits and three RBIs; JD Worcester had three hits and two RBIs; and Rusch, Eddie Owen and Jayson Schroeder had two hits each. In the Shorewood win, Rusch blasted a three-run double with two outs in the seventh inning to lead the comeback win. Christian Blackburn supplied a double and a triple and four RBIs against Inglemoor.
“The top of our order has done a good job getting on base and driving guys in, and timely hitting has been big for us,” said first-year Juanita head coach Brian Shannon, who spent four years as head coach at Steilacoom and two years there as an assistant coach.
Shannon noted that sophomore catcher Taylor Peterson — Tanner’s brother — has been hitting well along with handling Juanita’s trio of standout pitchers: junior starters Worcester and Schroeder and reliever Rusch.
Righty Schroeder has already committed to play at the University of Washington and lefty Worcester has been fielding some Division I offers. On the starting one-two punch, Shannon said Schroeder is a calm competitor and Worcester is a fiery hurler, and both guys get the job done with the individual demeanors they bring to the mound. Rusch has been throwing strikes and changing speeds well, the coach added.
Schroeder, who calls the starters the “dynamic duo,” noted about his first two appearances this season: “I feel really good. All the hard work in the offseason has paid off and I’m just excited to keep going.”
His main pitch is a fastball, and he mixes curves, sliders and changeups into his arsenal.
Worcester feels his best pitch is a changeup, which has been working well so far.
“The key to being a good pitcher, I believe, is just having fun. So every time out on the mound, I have a blast. It’s always freeing to be out there. You’ve gotta have fun with the sport you love,” said Worcester, who appreciates having a solid defense and offense on his side.
Defensively, Tanner Peterson is strong in center field, Blackburn — who has committed to play football at Idaho University — has a stellar arm at third base and Connor Riedel holds his own at second base, according to Shannon.
“For us, it’s really just about bringing a focus every day at practice and trying to establish a culture that we’re gonna get better every day and go about things the right way,” Shannon said. “We feel like the talent’s there. We just gotta do the little things at practice to put us in position to win games.”
Rusch aims to set an example for the other players to keep their intensity and focus at a premium each day in practice and during games.
Added Schroeder, feeding off Rusch’s philosophy: “I think the biggest thing with baseball is just stay positive and never get too high or too low because baseball’s a sport of failure. Just keep it on that plane and keep grinding.”