The Juneau-Douglas High School baseball team will be chasing their fifth state championship when state tournament play begins on Thursday at Anchorage’s Mulcahy Stadium.
“We accomplished our first major goal by securing the region championship (third straight) and getting the region’s top seed,” JDHS coach Sheldon Winters said. “But the road gets a lot tougher now.”
The Crimson Bears have won eight games in a row, including tournament wins over Wrangell (10-0), Thunder Mountain (11-4) and Sitka in the championship (13-3).
State tournament play is never an easy task as no team looks past an opponent.
The tournament is in a single elimination format for the state title, meaning a loss moves a team away from the championship and into a game for third or lower.
A win keeps a ball club advancing to, arguably, the most sought after stage in high school sports.
“We are going to have to be clicking on all cylinders to advance,” Winters said. “The past two weeks we have done so with dominant hitting, great pitching and quality defense.”
The Crimson Bears have warning track power from every class, can put a half-dozen arms on the rubber, and can lock up an infield or chase down loose fly balls in the outfield.
Led by all-conference selections Lance Ibesate and Ryan Kelly, who also happen to be an effective battery tandem (pitcher Ibesate being the transmitter and catcher Kelly the receiver), and their senior classmates Josh Magnuson and Brenden Winters, there is no shortage of leadership.
Magnuson was a player of the game selection in last season’s state tournament.
The starting senior pitcher was somehow overlooked on the recent all-tourney selection during the Region V championships as was junior teammate Kyle Gould, both hit well over 400 during the season.
Junior hurler Tanner Petrie, who faced the minimum 21 batters in a seven-inning no hitter against Ketchikan, also missed the conference nod.
JDHS is solid across the board with juniors Tod Baseden, Christian Gould, Jackson Lehnhart, Tal Norvell, Jeffrey Pusich, Kurt Vandor, sophomore Kellen Johansen and freshman Nathan Klein rounding out the roster.
The Crimson Bears, the Southeast Conference number one seed, will play at 1 p.m. against the Mid Alaska Conference number 2 seed Monroe Catholic Rams.
Monroe is a traditional powerhouse in other sports, (the newly crowned state basketball champion at the 3A level) and it attracts the top athletes in the Fairbanks area.
On the JDHS side of the bracket is a game between Cook Inlet Conference champion Service Cougars and the Northern Lights Conference number 2 seed Kenai Cardinals. Service went undefeated in their conference, the first Anchorage school to do so and boasts conference MVP Zack Ferthneil as well as a Gold Glove infielder and five first team all-conference selections.
The other side of the bracket features Colony (NLC 1) against South Anchorage (CIC 2) and Lathrop (MAC 1) against Ketchikan (SEC 2). South is the defending state champion and features three second-team and three first-team all-conference selections. Ketchikan has all-conference selection Brian Auger.
“We can’t sit on our laurels at this point,” Winters said. “Our goal is to continue to improve. If we do that and stay focused we should be in every game.”
The Crimson Bears went undefeated enroute to winning the state title in 2010. JDHS also won titles in 2008, 2002 (their first ASAA sanctioned championship) and 1997 when it was called the Mat-Su Valley Invitational.
The Crimson Bears seniors stated at the beginning of the season that the school’s history is the past, and that this is their year to make their own mark.