Who's gonna step up?
When the 2012 high school baseball season started, nobody was giving Washington much of a chance at winning a conference championship, much less getting back to the state tournament.
The Demons had lost seven seniors from the team that had reached the Class 3A state semifinals and won the most games in school history. Six of those seniors were going on to play college baseball. After losing that much talent, how could Washington possibly field a competitive team the next year?
Well, another seven seniors stepped in to take their place. It took some time for the Demons to find their bearings last summer — they started 8-8 and had a 3-5 conference record midway through the season — but they finally rounded into shape. They finished 9-7 to earn a three-way split of the Southeast Conference title with Mt. Pleasant and Fort Madison. And then they went on a postseason tear to end up at Principal Park in Des Moines for the second straight year.
How did they do it? Guys stepped up. T.J. Rausch recovered from a knee injury to hit a team-best .388 and drive in 32 runs. Colin Steele also had an outstanding senior season, hitting .380 and scoring 35 runs. Jake Redlinger batted .377 with four homers, seven doubles and seven triples, and he drove in a team-high 42 runs. Jared Henry went 7-4 on the mound with a 2.50 earned run average. Austin Knupp drove in 24 runs, and Henry drove home 23. Parker Turner went out for baseball as a senior and was a pleasant surprise, scoring 21 runs and swiping 13 bases. Matt Kuntz went 4-2 on the mound. Also, sophomores Tanner Knupp and Walker Breard quickly acclimated themselves to varsity baseball and had big years.
But now those seven seniors are gone, and the Demons are back in the same spot, trying to fill in the gaps and put another competitive squad on the field. Who will step up this year?
Tanner Knupp, who hit .350 last year and scored a team-high 39 runs, and Breard, who batted .342 with four homers and 32 RBIs, are the Demons’ most accomplished hitters returning. And junior Elijah Wood, who returned from a neck injury to go 2-1 in seven appearances with a 0.57 ERA, is an outstanding lefty who should have an outstanding season. But who else will step up? The team’s motto this year is “go get it.” Who’s going to go get it?
Several guys are ready to have a breakout year. Jake Dickinson was the junior varsity catcher last season, and he showed promise when playing at times on the varsity squad last year. Ezra Graber was a starter at Winfield-Mt. Union last year. Austin Witt will play second base after running and pitching last year. Young guys like Blake Weidman and Drake Brezina, who’s an eighth-grader, are very talented. The Demons have a depth of pitching. And you can’t overlook the drive and determination of coach Nathan Miller. The work he does with these guys is outstanding.
So area teams had better not overlook these Demons this summer. Because they’ll be reloaded and ready to go.