Juneau-Douglas High School clinched the conference regular season baseball title last weekend and the Thunder Mountain Falcons tumbled from third to fourth as the Region V teams gathered at Adair Kennedy Field for a preview of next weekend’s southeast tournament.
For the Crimson Bears (11-1 in conference), the regular season conference title required continuing their winning streak started at Sitka last week. In that trip, JDHS opened with a 9-5 loss to the Wolves and then beat Ketchikan 8-5 and Sitka 11-3. They then stopped Thunder Mountain 2-1 on Tuesday and 13-3 on Thursday.
“We knew going into all four of last week’s games that we had to win all of them,” JDHS coach Will Race said.
On Friday the Crimson Bears’ celebrated their senior night by crushing the Vikings 12-1. Jeffrey Pusich pitched a solid complete game for the Bears, finishing with five strikeouts, and one earned run. Kjell Wittstock scored the lone run for the Vikings off a single from Vince Kowalski. JDHS senior Todd Baseden went 2-2 with two singles, and two runs scored, classmate Gary Speck also went 2-2 with 2 RBI’s.
“Having such a senior rich team there was probably a moment in every game where each one of them did something important,” Race said. “And that is valuable and that is the sign of a true team when everyone is contributing. I can’t pick a moment this weekend. We had to win each game from Tuesday through Saturday and from that period last week each one of our seniors did something huge in each game.”
On Saturday the Crimson Bears had just three hits against Sitka, yet scored eight runs and blanked the Wolves 8-0 to clinch the southeast conference.
The Wolves bats couldn’t generate any runs all day. Sitka had loaded the bases in the top of the 2nd inning until JDHS senior Tanner Petrie recorded one of his eight strikeouts by sitting down the Wolves’ Fred Elliott. The Wolves never really threatened after that point in the game. The Crimson Bears got most of their runs in the 4th inning when Sitka relief pitcher Joey Inman struggled with accuracy. JDHS scored three straight runs on wild pitches. Senior Todd Baseden finished the inning with a 2 RBI single.
“After Friday’s win, we knew we had to win on Saturday or we were ranked second,” Race said. “The number one seed at Regions gets an extra day for pitching.”
The Falcons (4-8) were looking to clinch the season’s third best record.
“It was a tough weekend for us,” TMHS coach Matt Greely said. “We were on the wrong side of some close decisions.”
On Friday afternoon TMHS squared off against a skilled Sitka (10-2) team. The Wolves are mainly made up of nine juniors. Last season Sitka was the number 1 seed going into the Region V tournament, but placed 3rd behind Juneau-Douglas, and Ketchikan.
Thunder Mountain was coming off two losses in three days against JDHS, so they were looking for some sort of spark. That spark did not appear that night as the Falcons fell 4-1 to Sitka. Junior Gus Swanton pitched a solid five innings before being relieved by senior Patrick Millay.
“Ultimately this weekend was about fine tuning things and building for regionals and we felt like we accomplished that,” Greely said. “We are getting better at different facets of the game and we have some things that we need to address before we ship off this week but we like where our team is at for the most part.”
The weekend concluded with the Falcons celebrating their senior night in a tangle with Ketchikan (4-8).
Senior Jackson Pavitt pitched the full seven innings for the home team.
The Kings held a slim 4-3 advantage in the 4th. Kayhi got a huge boost when senior Brian Auger hit an RBI single to increase their lead. In the next inning the Falcons had two runners on base until Ketchikan converted a double play to hold off Thunder Mountain. Ketchikan’s Omar Mendoza pitched the whole game for the visitors to get the important victory.
“We had a better approach at the plate and were limiting our own strikeouts,” Greely said. “Any time you can put the ball in play you have a chance to score runs. I thought we did a better job with situational pitching and I thought our outfielders did a much better job in communicating with our infielders. These are things we can control and get better at.”
With the win the Kings, who had lost to Sitka 3-2 on Friday, took the tiebreaker over the Falcons for next weekend’s Region V tournament in Ketchikan. The number-four seed Falcons will play five-seed Petersburg on Thursday at noon and the winner will play number-one seed JDHS Thursday night at 6 p.m. Two-seed Sitka will face three-seed Ketchikan at 3 p.m. Thursday.
The tournament is double elimination, meaning it will take two losses to remove a team from making the state championship. The top two teams from the Region V tourney advance to state May 30-June 1 in Anchorage.