River Ridge baseball coach Chad Arko has guided the Hawks to numerous district titles, usually on the backs of a strong senior class which is looking to end their high school careers on a high note.
“We don’t have a senior class,” Arko said. “We have one guy.”
That lone senior is Mac Armstrong.
“And the funny thing is Mac’s freshman year he wasn’t here. He was at Timberline High School,” Arko said. “We only had six kids in that class who came out and played. All of them quit the next year. None of them came back, except for one who transferred in from Georgia, but he went back to Georgia this year. So, Mac is my only senior.”
With so many young faces, Arko, who stated he’s never coached such a youthful squad before, admits it would have been understandable for Armstrong, or anyone for that matter, to be a touch selfish and focus solely on himself during his last season. Plenty of people would have been driven by individual statistics instead of helping the team improve.
Armstrong, however, quickly checked his ego at the door.
“It would have been very easy for him to say, ‘Ok, I’m done. I’m just going to go out and play for myself and have fun,’” Arko said, “but that’s not him. He’s out there competing every day. He knows what we can do. He wants to make the postseason. He just keeps battling.”
Armstrong, who plans to attend Central Washington University, will be the first to confess basketball is his first love. This past season he helped the Hawks secure the fourth-place trophy at the Class 2A state basketball tournament, equalling the best finish in school history.
In fact, when he first started playing baseball, he felt it was something he didn’t want to do and actually dropped the sport in seventh grade.
“I just didn’t pick it up,” said Armstrong, who transferred from Timberline following his sophomore year. “It wasn’t something I wanted to do. I just started to focus more on basketball really.”
It wasn’t until a conversation with Arko, who was also an assistant on River Ridge’s boys’ basketball team, last year that brought about Armstrong’s return to the diamond.
“When I transferred here Coach Arko told me to give baseball a try,” Armstrong said. “I wanted to be part of something special because River Ridge has a rich tradition in sports and I like giving back. He wants me to be a leader and have (the team) listen and be coachable, learn to be patient and trust the process.”
“(River Ridge boys’ basketball) Coach (John) Barbee always wanted the seniors to step up during basketball season,” he continued. “I can bring what I learned from basketball here and lead these guys. Our goal is to make the playoffs. The basketball team finished fourth in state. The football team made it to state. We don’t want to be the team that misses out.”
With a roster heavy on potential, but light on varsity game experience, Armstrong’s worth has proven to be incredibly valuable for a Hawks team looking to make a postseason push.
“He’s a quiet kid, but very competitive. He hates to lose,” Arko said. “The one thing I like about Mac is I wasn’t sure how he was going to respond to being the only senior especially when you start losing a little bit because it’s really hard, not just for Mac, but any kid. The human instinct is to give up and quit. He actually works hard all the time. He’s done everything for us. He’s played outfield. He pitches and now he’s playing first base. He’s just been doing a lot of the little things right.”
And that has added up to big contributions this year for the Hawks.
“It’s been an up and down season so far in terms of wins. We’ve blown a couple late inning leads,” Armstrong said, “but that’s all part of the learning process. We have a couple freshmen and sophomores. It takes some time to get used to the speed of the game. It’s just getting used to playing at the varsity level.”
Just make it to May and the postseason is all Arko wants from his club as he can point to several past River Ridge teams that excelled to another level once the playoffs begin.
“I don’t want to treat it as a rebuilding year because we have some very good juniors and our freshmen are incredible,” Arko said. “Our whole goal this year is to make the final 16 and make sure we get to the postseason and build, especially for next year, because we have a lot of juniors, but also win this year so Mac can go out a winner.”