The Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears and Thunder Mountain Falcons baseball teams begin Region V tournament play today at Petersburg and win/loss records are out the window.
“We aren’t looking past any game,” TMHS coach Matt Greely said. “We need to just play our game and concentrate on how we play.”
There is no secret about surviving the grueling double-elimination format. Or is there?
“You would have to ask Sitka coach Ed Conley that,” JDHS coach Shelden Winters said. “He has found a way. They have secured first or second place the last seven years in a row. He has a real knack for getting through this tournament and qualifying for state, which is what this is all about. There is pride about winning regions but the most important thing is finishing one or two.”
Securing first place by winning the championship game gives that team the southeast conference number one seeding at the state tournament.
Losing in the championship game puts a team, who has probably thrown their best pitcher, in a precarious position: A loser’s bracket final game against another opponent who also has felt the cruel bite of the lower end of the scoreboard.
That game for second place sends a second team to the state tournament as a lower seed, and they are usually matched against the top Cook Inlet Conference team from Anchorage. At state the tourney is single elimination. Sitka has, however, actually gone to the state title game and won the championship three years in a row as the SE-two-seed.
So pitching in the region tournament is vital. Pitching anywhere is vital.
While Sitka won the region title last season, they finished fourth at state, losing their opening game to state runner-up Dimond and winning the next two contests over Soldotna and Kodiak. The Crimson Bears were the region runner-up and opened state play with a loss to eventual state champ South, and then lost to Kodiak.
In 2010 JD won the region title and Sitka was second. The Crimson Bears won state by beating Kodiak, West Valley and Dimond. Sitka beat Colony, lost to Dimond in the semifinals and beat West Valley to finish third.
In 2009 Sitka took regions and finished third at state, while Ketchikan got the two seed and lost in the state semifinals to eventual champ Dimond 2-1 and then rematched with the Wolves (lost to runner-up Chugiak 9-7 in the semis) who toasted the Kayhi pitchers 11-4.
In 2008 Juneau topped Sitka in the region and state title games. IN 2007 Sitka topped Juneau in the state championship game. Sitka won state in ‘06 and ‘05 when just one team traveled from southeast. JDHS took third in ‘04. Crimson Bears’ arms have included Sean Bavard, Clae and Dylan Baker, Aaron Cohen, Joe Kohan CJ Keyes and Sergio Magallanes.
This year the red and black boast Lance Ibesate, Josh Magnuson, Tanner Petrie, and Jeff Pusich. Plus, they can bring Tal Norvell on, or Nathan Klein and Kyle and Christian Gould.
“At this point and time there is not much more people can do,” Winters said. “We have done all the prep work we can do. Hopefully your team is peaking at the right time, because it comes down to who is playing the best baseball over the next three days.”
The Falcons can throw Chris Luck, RJ Markovich, Dylan Johnson, Gus Swanton and Tim Christensen, to name a few.
“We are happy with our pitching rotation,” Greely said. “A tournament like this can be taxing on a pitching staff. You don’t want to over due it for any pitcher but you don’t want to overlook an opponent. We certainly won’t jeopardize the health of one of our staff. We feel like we have enough quality mound presence.”
The rule in high school baseball is a player can pitch 10 innings in any three-day period of time. For example, a pitcher could throw a complete seven-inning game on Wednesday, three innings on Thursday, and throw an extra inning affair of 10 again on Saturday; just so long as Friday is off the mound.
That usually doesn’t come into play however as coaches monitor a players pitch count. If a mound guru throws 70 pitches he is probably gassed for the tournament, or at least for three days. Arm weariness, of course, depends on the player.
“Any time you ask a pitcher how his arm feels they are going to tell you they feel great,” Winters said. “Coaches keep an eye out.”
Reaching a certain pitch count, balls that begin to raise, a dancing catcher’s mitt, loss of velocity and control are telltale signs. And good hitters in the southeast conference have probably seen a pitcher at least twice and have dialed in on mannerisms, thus batting averages start to go up the third or fourth time around.
Sitka can wind up pitchers Brian Way, Mikalai Potrzuski, Tyler Grimm, AJ Inman, Jacob Licari, Louis Belley, Fred Elliot, or Jaren Sumauang. Ketchikan can heat up Brien Auger, Kenny Hamilton and Torin Oaksmith.
Smaller schools such as Craig, Wrangell and Petersburg can bring that one or two solid Picasso (a control pitcher, one who paints the black) who uses the corners of the plate; or a fireman (closer or relief pitcher) who delivers line drives to the catcher (swinging strikeouts); or an ace throwing number ones that punch out a batter with a whiff that leaves his mouth open.
It only takes one good mound genius or barn-bred hulk to fire seven innings and put a good team into the losers bracket. Then teams begin to play not to lose that second game.
The Falcons were knocked out of the tourney by Petersburg’s Taylor Pullar last year and that Vikings pitcher is back again along with freshman Colby Bell, plus they have home field advantage. The Craig Panthers have already given fits to various large schools this season. Throw in some bad field bounces, some mistaken or cross-eyed umpires, flukes, phenomena, weather and anything can happen.
“We have played everyone in the league and feel confident against whoever our opponent will be,” Greely said. “If we can just play catch with each other and execute the basic fundamentals of the game we feel like we can compete with anyone. We hope it is a long weekend of baseball for us.”
Added Winters, “You put the kids on the field, give them a baseball and see what happens. There is only one mound and one ball, you can have eight pitchers but it is how that one guy is doing at that particular time. Even the World Series champions have a bad weekend or a really good weekend. All you can do is prepare and hope you have a good weekend.”