Hope and belief pervade throughout Emerald Ridge High baseball practices as the Jaguars believe they have what it takes to take it to capture the 4A South Puget Sound League South Division this season.
Especially with the senior pitching duo of Nate Packard and Chad Gideon.
After last season, coach Larry Marshall saw progress with his top two starters. With Packard, it was the ace he knew this Jaguar team needed. But the coach wondered to himself if Packard could fulfill his potential.
That question was answered last summer during Packard’s offseason workouts.
“I was at (Big League Edge) with (former MLB pitcher) Jim Parque all winter, and he really helped me out with all my pitches,” Packard said. “I think I improved in everything I wanted to improve.”
Now, with Packard’s increased velocity (88 miles per hour indoors) on his fastball, and more control and break on his off-speed pitches, the senior is set to take the reins and run with it.
Last year, I think I had a pretty successful season. But this year I want to be consistent in everything I do.
Nate Packard, Emerald Ridge High pitcher
“My change-up is better this year. I think it will be big, especially against left-handers this year,” the senior said. “Being able to throw three pitches on any count is important. Last year, I think I had a pretty successful season. But this year I want to be consistent in everything I do.”
Packard finished with a 1.88 earned run average with a 3-2 record and 54 strikeouts over 53.1 innings.
This weekend’s action will be just be the starting point for Packard as he scheduled to take the mound for the Jaguars when they host SPSL Northeast foe Tahoma at Emerald Ridge High.
“He’s got more confidence in himself, and that’s coming from playing more baseball and putting in the work during the off-season,” Marshall said. “He’s really matured over the year. He’s more in command of himself, and that’s from being a senior, but that’s also from believing in what he can do out there.”
But Packard can’t do it alone. Not in a league where offenses can jump on pitchers during any given inning. No team can have any let-up if reaching the postseason is a goal.
Luckily, Emerald Ridge has two potential aces on its staff with Gideon penciled in at the No. 2 spot heading into the season. Even though he’s behind Packard on the charts, it’s really a tossup between the starters in terms of “ace” status.
“I like to think we have two aces on our staff. Actually, I would say we’re four pitchers deep because I like how (Chase) Barbre and (Chase) McGuire and (Andrew) Curran have looked so far as well,” Marshall said. “But I’d put Chad right with Nate in terms of our ace. Right now, we have Nate going against Tahoma, but I’d be comfortable with either to start the season.”
Gideon had a solid junior season with a 1.22 ERA and a 4-2 record, but his strikeout totals were down. Gideon had 29 strikeouts over 40 innings — an average of about five strikeouts per seven innings pitched.
I’m looking forward to it ... me and Nate have been looking forward to it since our freshman year.
Chad Gideon, on his senior season with friend Nate Packard
“I’m looking forward to it ... me and Nate have been looking forward to it since our freshman year,” Gideon said of teaming up at the top of the rotation.
Gideon had 31 strikeouts in 38.2 innings pitched as a sophomore.
“When (Packard’s) on the mound, he’s giving it his best, and when I’m on the mound, it’s my turn to do my best,’” Gideon said. “If me and him are the two aces, then that’s how it works. If not, then we have teammates who can step up, too.”