The game was billed as David verse Goliath. First-year varsity program Monroe had just 2 seniors among the 11 Rams players brought to the state tournament and the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears were seeking their fifth state title with four seniors and a roster of quality underclassmen.
Somewhere the fable that has the underdog winning, was turned upside down, misread, and ignored, as the smallest member of the lineup on the giant team in the fray was simply unhittable in leading the Crimson Bears to a 6-3 win in the first round of the state high school baseball championships.
Senior Gatorade Player Of The Year nominee Lance Ibesate registered 4 strikeouts in just two complete innings of no hit work to get the win.
“I went right at them,” Ibesate said. “This is a new field we are playing on this tournament but we are getting used to it.”
Ibesate’s first four pitches were fastball strikes resulting in one strikeout and a fly ball out to centerfield, and the next batter grounded out to Christian Gould.
The Crimson Bears struck quickly in their half of the first inning.
Junior Jackson Lehnhart reached by racing out a perfect bunt and Ibesate hit a hard ground ball to claim first. Kyle Gould then drew a walk to load the bases.
After a first batter strikeout, Ryan Kelly rapped a hard single back at the mound that scored Lehnhart. Tanner Petrie followed with an RBI fielder’s choice that scored Ibesate. Christian Gould made the score 4-0 on a 2 RBI shot into the outfield scoring K. Gould and Kelly.
“We are just taking it one inning at a time,” Ibesate said. “We are going all out every inning of every game because we know there is no second chances.”
After Ibesate struck out the Rams side in the second the Crimson Bears threatened but left two runners stranded, Ibesate who reached on a fielder’s choice and K. Gould who walked again.
“The cardinal rule in baseball is never lose without your ace,” JDHS coach Sheldon Winters said. “We started our ace and felt like once we had the game under control before Lance reached 30 pitches we would take him out. We felt we did.”
The Crimson Bears brought Jeffry Pusich to the mound in the third inning. Pusich struck out the first batter and, after the Rams’ Nick Fleming singled, picked him off the bag. Ibesate helped secure his lead by charging a hard ground ball from his shortstop position and throwing out Monroe’s David Stepovich.
JDHS’ loaded the bases in the third as Petrie reached on an error and C. Gould and Brenden Winters drew back-to-back walks.
Tod Baseden lofted a fly ball for a sacrifice RBI scoring Petrie and giving the Crimson Bears a 5-0 lead.
Monroe’s first run came in the top of the fourth inning as Tyler Wells singled and advanced on a Pusich balk. Scooter Bynum singled to put runners on first and third. Ibesate fielded a ground ball to turn a double play but the Rams snuck Wells across the plate. Pusich struck out the final batter.
“Jeffrey threw very well,” Winters said. “It was pin point accuracy. So we got a little greedy and we thought we might save him as well. We got guys some time on the mound and, bottom line, we have a full pitching staff with two games left.”
The Crimson Bears brought junior pitcher Christen Gould to the mound in the top of the sixth. The Rams challenged by putting runners on first and second as Fleming singled and Stepovich drew a walk. Kyle Gould ended the initial threat by fielding a ground ball at second and turning a double play.
The next Monroe batter reached and the Rams’ Scooter Bynum hit a fly ball that reached the 400-foot centerfield wall on a roll. Bynum rounded third to score a two-run infield home run before the ball could be played back to the infield, closing the gap to 5-3. Gould closed out the inning with a strikeout.
JDHS wasted no time in getting back an insurance run. Baseden rapped the first Crimson Bears’ extra base hit of the game with a leadoff double in the bottom of the sixth. Baseden stole third for a good look at home plate with no outs and scored on a Lehnhart RBI for a 6-3 JDHS lead.
In the top of the seventh Tanner Petrie took the rubber to close the game. After Ryan Burke reached on a single, Petrie threw to Baseden at first to pick him off. Petrie than struck out the remaining two batters for the win.
“Frankly, I think the coaches, I know I was, were more nervous than the kids,” Winters said. “They all said no, which worried me a bit. I have never seen a team that is as ready as they are. They really are ready. They were excited but not nervous. We had a handful of parents and the girls softball team here to support us and that was cool.”
The Crimson Bears scored their 6 runs on 4 hits and no errors. Monroe’s 3 runs came on 7 hits with 3 errors.
Ibesate struck out four and walked one; Pusich struck out three, C. Gould one and Petrie two.
Pusich received Player Of The Game honors for his three innings of relief work and the Crimson Bears move on to play tonight at 7 p.m. against the winner of Service/Kenai (late game). Service features the Gatorade State Player Of The Year, pitcher and infielder Zach Ferntheil and all region selections Garrett Brown, Trace Woodruff and Mike Choy. Kenai features all state football player and all region selection AJ Hull and all region selection Robert Cockrell.
For Ibesate, while the nod for Gatorade State Player Of The Year was nice, there is something out there even better.
“That is not the award I want,” Ibesate said. “I want the state championship, I am in it for the bigger picture. The team is behind me and I am with them every single pitch, one hundred percent.”
The Ketchikan Kings won their opening game of the tournament, beating Lathrop 7-6 in eight innings and play today at 4 p.m. against South Anchorage. South defeated Colony 7-1.
The JDHS girl’s softball team opens round robin state tournament play today at 1 p.m. against Service. The Sitka and Ketchikan softball teams open play today in the small school state tournament; Sitka plays at 3 p.m. against the winner of today’s early game between Monroe/Soldotna, and Ketchikan plays Homer at 11 a.m.