Give me a workhorse, that stud in the rotation who takes the baseball every few games and owns the rotation. Give me Mr. Reliable.
Give me an ace.
With tryouts and cuts over, local high school teams are setting their lineups and plugging in their guys for the rotation. For Bonney Lake’s Zac Horne, Emerald Ridge’s Nate Packard and Puyallup’s Chris Micheles, those roles have already been set.
And good thing, too, because coaches understand the importance of getting their top guys into their grooves early so they’re cruising come postseason.
“It’s very important to start off strong, you know. It gives you confidence out there, and you’re not worrying about whether you’re doing things right,” Puyallup coach Marc Wiese said. “You’re not worrying about anything other than that batter in front of you.”
But it’s a bit more complicated this year for Sumner High, which graduated Johnny Staley and Joey Muscarnera, and Rogers, which lost Jon Bjerk to graduation.
When entering the season, it’s more comfortable knowing who’s going to take the rubber come opening day.
Rogers coach Matt Whitehead sees potential in his team’s offense, but that can be neutralized if his staff doesn’t get the job done.
“Right now, I don’t know who’s going to be in our rotation, other than Troy (Johnston) starting for us,” Whitehead said. “Right now, I don’t know if we have an ‘ace’ but we’re hoping someone steps up. That’s all you can hope for.”
Emerald Ridge is in a unique predicament with two potential aces, and five strong starters on hand. It’s a problem Bonney Lake faced last year in the 3A SPSL.
Last year, the Panthers had Grant Townsend leading the staff with ace No. 2 in Zac Horne. Townsend was the guy — no doubt about it — but with Horne added to the mix, it made life easier for Bonney Lake coach Mike Olson.
“We graduated out a lot of strong senior leadership from last year,” Horne said. “Especially losing Grant. He really led this staff, and I learned a lot from him … it’s my turn to continue where he left us at.”
Townsend, now at Central Arizona Community College, was Olson’s go-to guy — the Panthers’ ace in the hole.
Losing a guy like him hurts, but as long as there’s someone to replace them, then there’s little to worry about. But baseball and high school are fickle friends, as each year brings in new challenges that forces teams to make mad rushes to fill the void.
“We want to use the beginning of the season with the older guys getting back into the routine, and starting off ahead of the start of practice,” Olson said. “You don’t always have that luxury with the younger guys because you have to coach them the way you want them to play on the team.”
And having an ace, a familiarity of Olson, who pitched for Pacific Lutheran University while Emerald Ridge coach Larry Marshall was coach of the Lutes, is even more crucial when a team has high postseason aspirations.
Not having one can cost a team a shot at the playoffs.
“Knowing who you’re going to put in there means it’s one less thing to worry about,” Olson said. “When you have 50-plus kids you have to coach, it makes it hard to get to everyone. Having that guy with experience means they can get themselves ready and I don’t have to worry about them. They know what to do.”
And sometimes that’s the point.