Region V Baseball Tournament a pitching chess match

Ketchikan's Brien Auger is out at second base as Juneau-Douglas' Lance Ibesate attempts a double play with a throw to first during a game at Norman Walker Field.

The Region V Baseball Tournament begins this morning at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. But make no mistake about it, the gamesmanship began last weekend.


And no one is giving away any state secrets as far as who will take the hill when play begins at 10:30 a.m.

“The games in Sitka last weekend had no bearing on seedings. Everything was set no matter what anyone did. But you could see teams not playing their best, and nobody’s going to tell you their pitching rotation because teams are jockeying,” Thunder Mountain co-manager Bill McCauley said. “Being a double-elimination format, you don’t always know who you’re going to be playing.

“And it is a fun thing to think about.”

Fourth-seeded Thunder Mountain faces No. 5 Petersburg in the opener, and the Falcons have a singular focus: Win two games, and you’ve got a legit shot at coming out with a state tournament bid.

Both teams that make Saturday’s championship game earn a state berth.

“I’m the type of coach that doesn’t talk about winning. I talk about performance, and I preach performance,” McCauley said. “But when you get to tournament time, I can talk about winning now because if you keep winning, you keep playing.”

Baseball ultimately always comes down to pitching. Teams that aren’t blessed with a lot of it can be in trouble in a format like Region V’s.

On one hand, you want to save your best pitchers for the games against the toughest opponents, a la versus No. 1 Juneau-Douglas, the defending state champion that finished 8-0 in conference this year. The Crimson Bears await the Petersburg-TMHS winner at 6 p.m. today.

But on the other hand, you have to win the first game just to get to that game.

And that’s where the chess match begins.

“It really becomes a test of your pitching staff,” McCauley said. “You have to figure out the best way to save arms. We’re certainly not as deep as some of the other teams, but we have options.”

While TMHS and Petersburg battle for the right to play JDHS, No. 2 Ketchikan faces off against No. 3 Sitka at 2 p.m. The top three seeds have a major advantage, especially the two that win their opening games. Win your opener, and you only have to play one game the next day, which means you are doing your pitching staff a great service.

But, no matter what, McCauley said, the old adage remains true: When it comes to postseason play, everyone has a clean slate and a fresh start.

“The seeding is done and everything is out the window. Now, all that’s left is to win,” he said. “Our mindset has always been good. Sometimes, right in the middle of a game, reality sets in when the big boys start hitting the ball hard and the pitcher’s blowing the ball past you. But you never can tell because it’s a game you can’t predict.”

Juneau-Douglas manager Sheldon Winters said the Crimson Bears aren’t hanging their hats on last year’s state title run, or even this year’s 8-0 regular season conference record. JDHS is taking a business-like approach into the weekend, Winters said.

“I think they’re in a great mindset. Nobody is thinking about the state championship. They are really focused on the task at hand because even though we went undefeated in conference, we have a really tough tournament here,” he said. “And I think what we’ve learned out of all of this is that, we went 8-0 playing what I call our ‘B game.’ We tended to jump on teams early and slack off. We pulled out a lot of close games at the end.

“If we play our B game, it will come down to a bad bounce, an error or a bad call. If we play our A game, we should be all right.”

As far as pitching, no one is in a better spot than JDHS.

“It’s a better place than Ketchikan and Sitka are in because they have to play each other,” he said. “We have the advantage of playing the lower seed and everyone knew at the beginning of the season that the number one seed had a significant advantage in terms of setting up your pitching. We have the advantage, watching Ketchikan and Sitka and then going from there.

“That’s important, but it all comes down to executing.”

Winters added that JDHS wouldn’t mind coming out of the tourney unscathed, perfect conference record intact.

“It’s a matter of pride. Last year’s team was undefeated, and our guys are happy they’ve done that so far (in conference),” he said. “We’re not taking anybody lightly. Petersburg and Thunder Mountain, they’ve got nothing to lose. They’re going to throw everything they have out there. We have to get past that first game.”

Games are at 10:30 a.m., 2 and 6 p.m. today through Saturday at Adair-Kennedy. If the weather forecast holds true, it should be a beautiful couple of days for baseball.

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