Auburn Mountainview High School is having the kind of season that baseball teams dream about. A No. 1 ranking among Class 3A teams. A 17-1-1 overall record, one game away from finishing its league season undefeated and a pair of players signed to NCAA Division I programs.
But the Lions maintain that their success has little do with their batters’ on-base percentages or pitchers’ strikeouts.
“We just all get along really well, and that’s something that can make or break a team,” said senior right fielder Hudson Byorick. “It’s not about talent ... it’s about having each other’s backs.”
And for a trio of players — Byorick, senior third baseman Ikaika Nahaku and junior first baseman Chandler Michalek — that has been happening for a long time. They played for Auburn’s 2010 Little League World Series team that was just three outs from a spot in the U.S. championship game when it fell to a team from Perland, Texas.
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The rest of their Auburn Mountainview teammates can relate.
A year after winning the only state baseball title in school history, the Lions went 15-10 — good enough to be 3A South Puget Sound League co-champions, but not enough to get them past the district playoffs.
This season, having players with experience in the limelight is paying off. All three of Auburn Mountainview’s LLWS players said the road to South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, helped them prepare for the rigor of high school baseball.
“The grind of getting there really helps now,” said Nahaku, whose father, Kai Nahaku, was the manager of Auburn’s LLWS team. “Being able to win and keep moving on.”
Lions coach Glen Walker said the trio’s experience is “definitely going to pay big dividends for us.”
He said they are among the tightest group of players he has coached since starting at Auburn Mountainview in 2005.
“They have really taken the younger kids under their wing and made sure everyone feels like a major part of the team,” he said.
Nahaku was batting .341 entering Monday and that average is behind four other players on the team, including Mason Cerrillo and Jeffrey Morgan, both who are batting above .400.
Not that they’re interested in that sort of thing.
“This team really doesn’t care about individual stats,” he said. “We care about the wins and losses.
“We sacrifice a lot, we steal a lot, and that’s different from other teams around here.”
Byorick, hitting .324, said that if the Lions make it as far as they expect, it will be a familiar feeling. He called playing on Little League’s biggest stage “totally unbelievable.”
“Knowing you could go home at any time, taking it one game at a time, and just having experience and being able to calm yourself down in the moment,” he said, “it’s a good thing to have.”
Michalek said the magnitude of playing in the Little League World Series didn’t hit him until he got older.
“When we were 12, we were just out playing baseball,” he said. “Baseball was what we knew, and that’s where we ended up.”
That nonchalant attitude has carried over to high school. Despite their quest for a state title, the players don’t like to think about records or rankings.
“We weren’t there last year,” Michalek said. “We’re more hunting than the hunted.”
Justin Marsden didn’t play on that LLWS team, but he does throw a fastball that has hit 94 mph and complements it with a deadly curveball. He has the potential to go in the major league amateur draft.
Marsden grew up playing with all three — he and Michalek are cousins — and said that their close bond helps them on the field.
“I’ve (played) with them since we were five,” he said. “We’re just happy seeing each other grow up and being on the same team.
“It helps us as a team — that we have each other.”
Byorick, Michalek and Nahaku were in middle school when they finished a game short of the U.S. championship in the LLWS. Now, with two of them being seniors, they hope to go out with a state championship.