Sisters Joni and Jaelin Lancaster are standout three-sport athletes at Rochester High School, but it’s no mystery which sport tops the list as their favorite.
“It’s always fastpitch season for us. No matter what is going on,” Joni said. “It’ soccer season? I got to go to fastpitch practice. Basketball season? I got to go to fastpitch. It’s year round.”
Joni and Jaelin, along with fellow senior Courtney Baird, have helped the Warriors to their best season in more than 15 years, and while there’s no relation between the twins and Baird, all three agree “we are basically sisters.”
“I’m the third one,” Baird said. “The other players always make fun of us because we act like we are related. We fight in the dugout like they are my sisters, but I think the closeness does rub off on people. I think a lot of the team chemistry we have has to do with her seeing how Jaelin, Joni and I act around each other.”
It’s a sisterhood that was forged through fastpitch over the course of a decade.
“We’ve traveled together for fastpitch since I was about 8,” Baird said. “I am like a member of the family. It’s been awesome being able to play with them since I was little.”
Throw in the fact that head coach Jared Lancaster is Joni and Jaelin’s father, and one of his long-time assistants is Kent Baird, Courtney’s dad, and you would be hard-pressed to find a team with a longer history together.
“I think they have a lot of great memories playing ball,” Jared said. “They just all really like softball. There are so many pictures of those three from tournaments over the years. It’s all paying off now.”
The payoff has been in wins as the Warriors are poised to capture the 1A/2A Evergreen League and take a lot of momentum into the postseason.
“I think this year means a little more than last year. It just feels different this year,” Baird said. “Everyone seems to be a little more focused than last year. I feel everyone is really close. Everyone has gotten to know each other so well. We have two new freshmen in the program this year and they fit in with us just perfect.”
Since losing to Montensano, the defending 1A state champions, on April 14, the Warriors have yet to lose, and they are doing it with some big time hitting. Over Rochester’s six-game winning streak, the team has scored in double digits in every game.
“That’s one aspect we’ve always been lacking over the last couple years,” said Jaelin, the team’s top pitcher. “Our defense has always been strong. It’s nice to see our offense picking up and matching what our defense can do.”
The hot hitting has resulted in a combined 92 runs over the six wins, with 19-run games coming against Aberdeen and Tenino.
“The beginning of the season it was the top half (of the battling order hitting) and not the bottom, and then it was the bottom half and not the top,” Joni said, “but now it’s both. It’s really been coming together.”
The Warriors close out the regular season with a non-league clash with Tumwater on May 9.
“It’s going to be a grind. We are focusing on little mechanics here and there now,” Joni said. “There’s really not that much to work on this part of the season. We are just polishing everything up.”
The game against the Thunderbirds could be used as a measuring stick for the upcoming playoffs as Rochester heads to the 2A district tournament, which will feature teams from the 2A Evergreen Conference, which Tumwater is a member of, and 2A Greater Saint Helens League.
Last year, the eventual state champion (W.F. West) and the fourth place team (Woodland) emerged from this district.
“If you make it out of our district, you should do pretty well at state,” Jared said. “It’s one of the tougher district tournaments.”
The Warriors lone game against the 2A EvCo came earlier in the season when they defeated Centralia, 12-5, in a game highlighted by a Baird grand slam.
“Every year we’ve had at districts we’ve come so close, one game away from getting to state,” Jaelin said. “That’s our goal – get to state.”
Should that goal be achieved it would mark just the second time in school history, and first since 2000, the Warriors advanced to the state tournament.
“That’s been my goal since I was 10. Honestly, in anything,” Joni said. “The other sports we really didn’t have much of a chance, but in fastpitch this year is our best shot of that happening.”
One final road trip to Carlon Park in Selah, where the 2A state tournament will be held, would be a fitting end for the senior trio.
“At first I really didn’t think much of it, but as our season has gone along I’ve realized this is going to end soon. It definitely hit me hard the last few games,” Jaelin said. “It’s basically been our whole childhood.”