Local ball teams await diamond among the snow
With the better part of a foot of snow as a spring break offering, the softball and baseball programs for both local high schools are honing their skills in school gymnasiums, The Dome and the newly expanded McDonald Center.
Chugiak softball mentor Jim Huber is the senior member among local coaches, now in his sixth year at the helm of the varsity team.
With 27 players on the currently eligibility roster, the coach said the school will field two squads, varsity and JV.
The 2013 Mustang varsity team placed third in the conference, then fifth in last year’s state tourney. The returning coach is hoping for more this year.
“I’m really excited about this team. I think we’ll be pretty good,” he said Saturday evening.
Chugiak returns a solid pitching nucleus of Katie Bakker and Elle Gray, both conference selections a year ago.
To that rotation, the Mustangs are the beneficiaries of an out-of-district transfer player, another pitcher, Juliette Montgomery, from San Diego.
Other players noted included lone freshman catcher Victoria Hooper and sophomore outfielder Emmie Jennings.
Huber said that defending state champs East Anchorage T-Birds are most likely the preseason favorite pick, but that the Mustangs could serve as spoilers.
Eagle River softball
Eagle River High, under second-year coach Charley Peyton, is running a slightly smaller roster with 21 players but hopes to pick up a few more players to field a second team. Peyton had been the JV coach and varsity assistant since 2010, lending stability to the program.
“We didn’t have a JV last year due to only having about 18 players during tryouts. We want to have a varsity and a JV this year to begin building the program again,” he said.
The team has a dozen incoming freshmen, providing high hopes for the future.
Senior Shannon Jones returns as the team’s primary starting pitcher, with junior Ellie Spunaugle at catcher. Returner Teagan Mergen, also a junior, will play first base and will likely be the squad’s leadoff batter.
The Wolves were 2-18 in 2013, leaving the team with much room for improvement.
“Last year we were using practice time to dig out Albrecht Fields. We’re hoping of a more normal Alaska spring this year and for a better record,” he said.
So far, the team has been training in the gym splitting time and availability with the Wolves’ hardball team. The team may schedule practices at The Dome in upcoming weeks.
“We have a large number of tryout players that have never played softball, which is common for Eagle River and Alaska softball in general. The girls are very athletic and coachable, however, and I’m enjoying teaching the game to a new group of players,” Peyton said.
Team goals are simple: to be competitive at both varsity and JV, and at varsity, to win two games in the conference tourney and make the state playoffs.
Chugiak coach Doug Henie is in his first official year at head coach of the baseball team but has been working with the program since 2004.
While the Mustangs have graduated some top players in the last few years, the team is looking to improve on last year’s high school season, which was following by an American Legion state title last fall.
“I’d say this is a building year, just depends on how our pitching develops,” Henie said.
Among the team’s current listing of 26 athletes, the squad is laden with nine freshman and seven juniors.
“We have a good core group of juniors, and we have a good group of freshmen coming out of Mirror Lake (Middle School),” Henie said.
Top returners include Zachary Brueggeman, Matt Hess, Blake Kutch and Brandon Neal.
Eagle River baseball
Eagle River High baseball coach Gregg Frost is looking for his younger group, big on experience, to make some noise in district play.
Last season the team finished one game out of advancing into the top-tier bracket and missed out on going to state. Frost doesn’t want that to happen again.
“Last year we had a lot of players opt out of Legion ball, which gave our remaining players a lot of innings,” he said.
The team returns only one senior in centerfielder Collin Metzel.
Other top returnees include brothers Cameron and Christian Fabacher, R.J. Dirscherl, Lauren Frost and Michael Rosenberg. The cluster makes up much of the team’s infield along with its pitching rotation.
“This core group has never stopped working since last year. They have motivated one another throughout the winter,” Frost said. “We are already leaps and bounds beyond where we were this time last year.”
With more experience coming in, the coach is counting on the team’s defensive and offense merits to shine.
“We have a lot more proven pitchers this year,” he said.
Also, with Rosenberg and Dirscherl at the plate, Frost looks for the pair to continue delivering the hard hits into the gaps in the outfield that have resulted in numerous doubles and triples.
“We have a really good mix in hitting this year,” he said.
With 22 athletes out so far and more awaiting academic eligibility, Frost is planning to field varsity and JV teams. In order to fill complete lineups, some players will have to swing between the two teams. Foster said that league rules allow for 21 innings of play per week per player.
Weather permitting, baseball games are slated to begin May 2. The softball schedule has not yet been posted.