This year the youth movement is on for Auburn Riverside baseball.
With fourth-year head coach Jon Aarstad projecting a possible starting lineup featuring as many as five freshman, the time will be short to gain experience to be able to compete in the brutal South Puget Sound League 3A.
Luckily for Aarstad and the rest of the Raven varsity squad, a strong core of seniors is there to lead the team, including four-year varsity starter Noah Freelund.
Last year Freelund, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound, right-handed senior, was the team’s workhorse on the mound, putting in 46.1 innings of work, resulting in a 3-4 win loss record with a 1.96 earned run average and 50 strikeouts.
Offensively, Freelund chipped in with a .333 average, netting 20 hits and 15 RBIs.
“Noah is a physical player, a big strong kid,” Aarstad said. “He throws hard, hits for power and can hit for average. Overall, he brings a confidence to the team that he’s the guy, and we’re all following him.”
Baseball has been Freelund’s mainstay ever since he began playing Little League ball at the age of six.
Although he tried out for one season each of basketball and wrestling, it has always been baseball that fires his competitive spirit.
“It’s a team sport but also an individual sport,” Freelund said. “When I’m out there pitching, it’s just me out there pitching, but I’m doing it for the team. So it’s a little of both.”
Spurred on by his dad, Martin Freelund, who played prep baseball for Kennedy Catholic, Freelund soon found himself pitching.
“I always had an electric arm,” Freelund said. “But I really didn’t start pitching until 10 and developed it at age 14. I’d say I was in the middle of the pack when I was playing 14U. Before that I was just throwing, I didn’t really pitch. But then I started developing more and realized I was pretty good at this.”
He developed his three-pitch core, a four-seam fastball, a 12-6 curve and a circle change-up, but more important, he got right mentally.
“Throwing is just going out with not the best mechanics … and trying to throw it past everybody and get them out,” he said. “Pitching to me is having a plan for each batter before you actually face the batter, and executing the plan.”
In addition to his Little League participation, Freelund augmented his career playing club ball with the Kent Bulldogs, the Puget Sound Shockers, the Seattle Buzz and the Big League Edge.
But only when he started his prep career did he fully began to blossom.
“It’s more competitive during high school; you only have a limited amount of games to get into the postseason in high school,” Freelund said. “Coaches put more pressure on you in high school than in summer ball.”
Even as a freshman, Freelund said, he was expected to help lead the Ravens, a responsibility he was more than happy to step up to.
“I’ve always been taught to lead by example,” Freelund said. “Even as a freshman on varsity, coach had me be a leader and step up and be an example. Even now my coach is teaching me more about being a leader and what he expects.”
Aarstad said he’s come to rely on Freelund’s leadership skills to aid the team’s growth.
“He’s grown into it,” Aarstad said. “We’ve had discussions about what I expect from him and what type of teammate the rest of the team needs. And he’s taken it as a challenge and doing really well. Off the field, he’s outspoken and really kind of a funny kid. The other kids like him. He works hard, and at the same time he’s got that focus on where we want to go. He is being a really good leader for us right now.”
Crucial for this season’s inexperienced Raven squad.
“It’s huge having him, and he’s really gathering the younger kids around him and showing them what it takes, and how to get where he is at,” Aarstad said. “He’s doing a great job of being an example and a vocal leader … We don’t really care that they’re that young. We have high expectations. Regardless of your age, if you challenge us enough, you’re going to be up here with us. Age is no excuse.”
Just a couple of games into the season, Freelund said he’s already encouraged by the team’s prospects.
“I didn’t know what we had the first game we played,” Freelund said. “But when I was pitching on the mound, and the balls were being hit, and the guys were making plays, it took some of the pressure off, and I realized that these guys could play and compete at the high varsity level. But I still have to ride them a little bit and tell them it’s not just ball with your buddies, you have to step up and compete.”
“We have to find our identity each year,” Freelund said. “This year we’re young, but we shouldn’t play like we’re young. We should play like a varsity team that’s been playing together for years, not a scrappy freshman team that’s just beginning to come together. I think we do have the potential to make it to the postseason. We probably need to hit a little better and be more aggressive at the plate. We have a good defense and are pretty good on the mound, but it’s going to be hitting that is the real factor for us this year.”
Individually, Freelund said, he is just focused on playing hard every day. He said that he hopes to move on after this year to community college ball, likely for Pierce Community College, where he hopes to earn a transfer to the University of Oregon.
“I try not to let the team down and go out and do my best every day,” Freelund said. “I try to make sure and pick everybody up and have a smile on my face every single day. I’ve never been a numbers or stat guy, I just go out and play.”