Juanita’s softball sluggers: Standing (from left to right): Jordan Schroeder, Sasha Mitchell, Kaci Gordon, Tatum Kawabata, Lexi Blackburn, Kristina Warford, Brynn Radke, Eden Radke, Megan Murray, Kendra Kreider and Claire Longcore. Kneeling (from left to right): Rori Hutchinson, Heather Gengo, Natayah Bauer, Briar Swayne and Abbie Reynolds. Courtesy photo

Juanita High softball explosion: Home runs galore for returners and newcomers

Juanita High’s softball bats are exploding this season.

The Rebels are stepping up to the plate and smashing balls all over the field — and over the fences.

At press time, Juanita amassed 96 hits and 11 homers and compiled a 4-1 3A KingCo record and 5-2 overall mark. Slamming their stamp on the homer category are senior Kristina Warford with four, junior Lexi Blackburn with three, freshman Sasha Mitchell with three and freshman Kaci Gordon with a grand slam.

“They put the time in, they work hard at it. As a coach, it is the best feeling to see these girls succeed, to see them hit the ball hard and to see them want to win — that’s what’s really rewarding,” said fourth-year Rebel head coach Traci Odegard, whose team made state the last three years and won the title in 2015.

Juanita players have crossed the plate 81 times during KingCo play and conceded 22 runs during that five-game stretch.

Senior catcher and co-captain Tatum Kawabata feels the team’s dynamic is special this season. It starts with team chemistry and rolls from there.

“I think at the beginning of the year, we all sort of try and buy into the mental aspect of being a team. Like our coach always says, it’s 90 percent mental, and then we just put in the work from there and we get the results,” Kawabata said.

Added Odegard: “Consistency is what I definitely talk about with the girls, and doing what they love to do. These are girls who’ve been playing for a long time and playing together for a long time.”

Juanita’s top returners are senior captains and four-year players Kawabata, Warford (shortstop) and Brynn Radke (second base). The Rebels return eight defensive starters and bring freshmen Mitchell (third base) and Abbie Reynolds (outfield) into key defensive and hitting roles. Juanita has six freshmen sluggers making an impact to go along with four seniors, three juniors and three sophomores.

Odegard is proud of her junior pitcher Megan Murray, who is throwing strikes and getting batters to hit the ball to her sure-handed defense. At press time, she was 4-2 overall and strong sophomore pitcher Jordan Schroeder notched a victory as well.

Warford enjoys watching everything come together during games.

“We all kind of feed off each other, so if one person gets a hit, it keeps rolling. It’s fun because we’re all really loud in the dugout, too,” she said.

Radke seconds the loudness factor and noted that the tight-knit Rebels support each other the whole way.

“We’re a very competitive team, so when it comes down to the really important games at the end of the year, we always come out and show up,” she said. “Both hitting and defense put together makes us a really strong team.”

The second baseman says the Rebels give it their all and aren’t afraid to make mistakes.

“We have each other’s backs and pick each other up — that’s a big thing,” Warford added to Radke’s comment.

Odegard said it’s early in the season and she likes what her squad has accomplished so far. She knows there’s much more coming around the basepaths and exciting games to behold.

“They’re definitely gonna grow, they’re definitely gonna improve and it’s only gonna get better,” the coach said of her squad.

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