Damon Casetta-Stubbs and Sam Lauderdale are on Perfect Game’s Dream Team to start season
VANCOUVER — Just one is enough for something magical to happen. A league title is possible. So, too, is a long playoff run.
A high school baseball team just needs one true ace to open up all kinds of possibilities.
In this case, we are defining a true ace as a pitcher who already has a Division I scholarship plus has professional scouts at just about every one of his starts.
Before that player graduates high school, it is very possible he will be drafted by a Major League Baseball franchise. That ace will have to make a decision in the summer: to head to college or begin his pro baseball career in the minor leagues.
It is special for any team in Clark County to have one pitcher that fits that description. King’s Way Christian has two.
Damon Casetta-Stubbs and Sam Lauderdale, a pair of aces, are preparing to lead the Knights again. A year ago, the Knights won the Class 1A state title.
This spring, Perfect Game, which describes itself as the world’s largest baseball scouting service and is respected throughout all levels of baseball, put Casetta-Stubbs and Lauderdale on its Northwest Region High School Dream Team.
Not the county’s dream team. Not the state’s team. The entire Northwest. Perfect Game picked five high school pitchers as its best prospects from the region, and two of them are Knights.
“Wow,” is how Lauderdale described his reaction. “I look at the kids on that team, and all those kids are draft-worthy. Perfect Game is the biggest scouting bureau. They keep track of everything.”
“Being a ‘Northwest’ guy is pretty special,” Casetta-Stubbs said.
Gregg Swenson, who took over as head coach of the defending state champions this season, said it can be a once-in-a-decade thing to have one player make such a preseason dream team.
“Now you’ve got two on the same team in the same graduating class? That’s crazy,” he said.
“Most coaches would love to have one of them. We’re fortunate they chose King’s Way and we got both of them.”
Interesting, it did not start out as a perfect fit.
“It’s a huge blessing to have two of the best pitchers on the same team,” Lauderdale says now.
“Me and Damon butted heads at first,” said Lauderdale, who came to King’s Way his sophomore year.
Two alpha pitchers, trying to top one another.
“We just said, ‘Together, we can do this.’ We proved it junior year, winning state,” Lauderdale said.
Two aces together is better, after all.
“Having Sam here was good for me,” Casetta-Stubbs said. “It was good to have someone with similar skills to keep me going. He pushed me, and I pushed him, without even knowing it. It brought more of a competitive spirit to the team.”
The Knights want more of that competitive spirit, too. They don’t want to be satisfied just with last year’s accomplishments. At the same time, this is a new season, with several new, younger faces playing prominent roles.
King’s Way Christian lost its first game of the season to Woodland.
“It should be a wake-up call,” said Lauderdale, who is expected to make his first start next week. (He was scheduled to miss the first five games of the season due to an unspecified violation of a school rule.)
Casetta-Stubbs, a right-hander, got the start against Woodland and left with the lead. Swenson said he wants to keep all of his pitchers healthy and will be using a a conservative pitch limit in the early going of the 2018 campaign.
No reason to change from that plan for a non-league game in March. The Knights have long-term goals, after all.
“I just want to leave this season knowing we couldn’t do any better than we did,” Casetta-Stubbs said. “It’s not necessarily about wins and losses. If we mesh together as a team and put together a good run, that would be a good senior year to me.”
Lauderdale is more direct: “To win another ring.”
Casetta-Stubbs said none of the Knights were certain of winning it all last year at this time.
“Going into the season, we weren’t sure we had the guys to do it. I’m not sure we were the best team. But we definitely played the best,” he said. “We played with heart. Getting the ring was pretty cool. It’s something we’ll carry with us for the rest of our lives.”
Now it is time to lead this squad to its potential. Lauderdale recalled coming up short in games last season, but still getting the job done when it mattered.
“We can afford to lose, to win,” he said.
Casetta-Stubbs said he has been a leader before, but this year it means a bit more because he is a senior. There is no doubt now.
“They trust me a little bit more,” he said of his teammates.
As individuals, the two aces have a lot on their minds, too.
Lauderdale has signed with Washington State. Casetta-Stubbs has signed with Seattle University. Major League Baseball’s draft is in June. It is possible one, or both, will be drafted.
“I’m going to make the best decision for me,” Casetta-Stubbs said. “It’s been a dream of mine forever to be able to play professional baseball.”
On the other hand, he has a chance to play for a quality college program.
He said if he is drafted and he has to make a decision, it will be a “win-win.”
Lauderdale is on his way to Pullman to pitch for the Cougars unless …
The left-hander pitcher said he will be keeping all options open. He, too, would be thrilled with playing pro ball beginning this summer.
Their new coach is doing his best to make sure they are seen. There were 20 scouts at a recent scrimmage, and Swenson said he will be messaging scouts every week with the team’s scheduled rotation.
It is a balancing act, trying to highlight individual skills while also forming a team. But again, all coaches would love to have such a predicament.
The pitchers know they are getting extra attention, but they also know this is a team first. Casetta-Stubbs said a video game is helping bring all the Knights together. A typical Saturday morning brings a bunch of teammates to his basement to play Fortnite on four TVs. Riley Danberg is the best player in that game, Casetta-Stubbs said. Everyone else is trying to catch him.
By the end of April and into May, the Knights hope everyone will be chasing them again, on the way to the state playoffs.
Having two aces will help in that journey. The new coach, though, is not fixated on repeating.
“It’s not about championships. It’s about being a champion,” Swenson said. “On and off the field, act like a champion and then championships will be won.”