New coach, winning attitude

A memo to the Cedar Park Christian baseball team: it’s your turn.

Eagle baseballers have the right stuff

A memo to the Cedar Park Christian baseball team: it’s your turn.

First in the fall, it was a record-setting performance by the Cedar Park football team. Then in the winter, basketball brought home the first state trophy in its program history.

Now baseball has aspirations to raise the bar, and hopefully make the Class 1A state tournament for the first time in four years.

For the third straight year, the Eagles are led by a new head coach. Clint Behrends has stepped aside to focus on his superintendent duties, said new coach Rob Rusch, who played collegiately at Northern Arizona and has coached select baseball for 12 years.

“I always said that I would like to have just a good group of kids and see how far I can work with them,” Rusch said. “I’m kind of getting that opportunity right now, and it’s working out well.”

Growing up in the Shoreline area, Rusch played for Stan Taloff, who, ironically, was the coach at Cedar Park Christian until three years ago when the current seniors were sophomores.

“We are able to relate to Coach, and being able to play for a coach who has played for a coach is a blessing in itself,” said Jeff Calhoon, the team’s catcher.

Calhoon — who last week signed to play baseball next year at the University of Pacific, a Division I school in California — leads a talented senior class that includes returning all-league performers Jon Ramos and Abe Potts and Connor Williams, the team’s ace pitcher. The team has seven seniors in total, and the Eagles believe they have the tools to get to the state tournament, something that has eluded this senior class the past three years.

“When we were freshmen, we could tell we had a very athletic class,” Williams said. “Throughout high school, I looked forward to us growing up and getting bigger, and I knew we were going to be a force in this league when we were all seniors.”

But the team doesn’t have enough seniors to fill out a team, and will have to rely on some younger players. The gem of that group is freshman Ben Circeo, who is already a starting middle infielder and the team’s leadoff hitter.

“(He has a) real good shot at being one of the better players in the area in a couple of years,” Rusch said.

Cedar Park is 6-4 on the year, but three of the team’s four losses came to 3A or 4A teams that can have a 2,000-student enrollment compared to Cedar Park’s 400.

“I would match my starting lineup up against anybody. But, obviously, with the size of our program, the size of our school, we just don’t have the depth that the bigger schools do.”

As 1A Emerald City League play resumes this week, Rusch expects a three-team race between Cedar Park, Overlake and Bellevue Christian. Cedar Park defeated Overlake, Overlake defeated Bellevue Christian and Bellevue Christian has defeated Cedar Park.

Emerald City has three spots to get to the playoffs, which could lead to a state berth. But Williams, the team’s top pitcher, said the team doesn’t want to just make it to state.

“I think we can win state,” Williams said.

“We had that tournament in California and really bonded as a squad, and I think we have the team to do it and the coaching to do it this year.”

The players feel the California trip, where Cedar Park went 2-2 against mostly bigger schools, was vital in the team’s development and can help out on the field this year.

“The team grew as a whole,” Calhoon said. “Our bond as a team has grown really well in California. All of us roomed together and we all ended up sitting around the television and down by the pool. Living with the guys for a week, we are really tight now.”

A tight-knit group and solid chemistry has been important to the football and basketball teams’ success this year. Now baseball has a chance to cap off one of the most special years in Cedar Park school history.

“We hope to,” Calhoon said of surpassing the previous sports’ accomplishments this year.

“We plan on it. We plan on exceeding that. We just want to feed off that.”