The Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain High School baseball teams open Region V tournament play at Ketchikan tomorrow in a double-elimination format that lends itself to who has the bigger guns, as in arms.
As in fastball throwing, corner catching, curve and slider bending, sub/side/top armed pitchers who can command an inning from the mound.
“It is a fair style format,” TMHS coach Matt Greely said. “It gives each team a chance to maybe have a hiccup somewhere along the way. There is a lot of strategy that is involved and this is the most exciting time of the year. This is what all the winter workouts lead up to, hopefully peaking at this time of year and earning a berth to state.”
The strategy that comes into play involves the innings limit for pitchers. A pitcher can throw 10 innings in any three-day span and then has to rest a day. In a double elimination tournament, the team with more quality arms has a better chance to stay alive.
TMHS (number four seed) opens the tourney against Petersburg (number five) at noon tomorrow. The winner will play JDHS (number one) at 6 p.m. that night.
Sitka (number two) and Ketchikan (number three) play at 3 p.m.
“It is very interesting because the two seed gets a hard draw right off the bat,” JDHS coach Will Race said. “It is no easier when four plays five. The number one seed at regions gets an extra day for pitching.”
For a team like Petersburg, in a double elimination, the decisions are not as dramatic. They have one top ace that, on any given day, can stop a 4A school.
“We will either play Thunder Mountain or Petersburg,” Race said. “That is the given in the first day. I assume Petersburg will throw their best pitcher at TMHS. I don’t know what TMHS will do because Johnson is their best pitcher. I assume they would save him for us, but Petersburg’s Kolby Bell is good enough to beat the Falcons if TMHS doesn’t throw their ace.”
The loser of the TMHS/PSG game will play a tough opponent (the SIT/KTN loser) in an elimination game on Friday. The winner of that elimination game advances to play the loser of the next game, and on and on it seems to go.
The bottom line is, if you win two games you have a chance to earn a state berth.
Teams try to save their best pitcher for the toughest opponent.
The defending state champion Crimson Bears deserve to have that credential. The Sitka Wolves were just a game off of the conference top seed. The Ketchikan Kings are hosting, have the home field advantage, and want to return to the state championship game where they fell to JDHS last year. The Falcons have been able to play with all four teams and Petersburg is just baseball savvy enough to give a team a loss. One loss, in the Region V format, can be a blow to a pitching rotation.
“I think our pitching will be our strong point going into regions,” Greely said. “The fact that we start over with a 0-0 record is encouraging as well. It is a chance to start fresh and we think our guys have gotten stronger throughout the season. This is the real measuring stick to see where you are at.”
The Falcons have eight or nine pitchers they are comfortable giving the ball to in a varsity game, more than they have ever had: Dylan Johnson is the ace of the Falcons staff. Jackson Pavitt, Gus Swanton, RJ Markovich, Jared Markovich, Tim Christensen, Jake Tanner, Patrick Millay, Matthew Cunningham, Collin Ludeman, Finn Collins, Stefan Beedle, Jacob Macaulay, Brian Mielke were all mentioned by Greely as pitchers.
“In southeast with the amount of games you have in a packed schedule you need to develop guys who can throw the baseball and guys you can count on,” Greely said. “It is great to see some of our arms start to develop and give us the chance to be in some tight ball games.”
The Crimson Bears have a number of reliable arms as well, but have steady aces in Tanner Petrie and Jeffrey Pusich. Kyle Gould also can throw a complete game. Tal Norvell is called on to save a game or close out an inning, as does Nathen Klein. The surprise arm in the lineup has been Kurt Vandor, who records the most digits on the radar gun.
“This year we are deeper and can throw a starter the whole game,” Race said. “We won’t take anyone for granted or overlook anyone. We may not throw someone seven innings, we may save them for the following game too. Two wins and you are in; three victories and you win the whole thing.”
It could possibly be the last time the Falcons and Crimson Bears seniors play a high school game. Coaches compiled these sentiments of their upcoming graduates.
For the Falcons:
No. 24 - Pavitt plays all the infield spots and pitches and has played outfield. Since the programs inception, Pavitt has been an invaluable member of the team and provides power in the middle of the batting lineup.
“We have seen improvement from Jackson in all aspects of the game,” Greely said. “Defense, offense, base running and pitching. He is going to be a big part of what we are going to be able to do going forward.”
No. 10 - Millay is a pitcher, outfielder and the team’s go to catcher.
“Patrick has been invaluable for us,” Greely said. “He has filled a huge void after losing senior catcher Chris Luck last year. Patrick stepped in and has done an exceptional job behind the plate. He plays incredible outfield as well and we would love to have him in both spots at once.”
Has improved with his pitching as well and will be used in all three roles at regions.
No. 20 - Taylor Peterson is in his first year with the program and has provided an incredible work ethic and example for the underclassmen. Peterson has improved by leaps and bounds and will play some first, outfield, and courtesy and pinch runner.
No. 22 - Johnson has been with the program since part way through the initial campaign.
“Dylan has made drastic improvements and has corralled all the funkiness of his wind-up,” Greely said. “He has really turned into a polished high school pitcher. He is going to get a lot of work on the mound and at first base. He has made big strides offensively this season and, to his credit, is in the best shape of his life.”
For the Crimson Bears:
No. 18 - Tod Baseden (Rightfield & Centerfield) is a menace at the plate. It doesn’t matter if he is batting 1st or 9th he will find a way to get on base.
“It seems like every time I look up as a third base coach I see Tod on base,” Race said.
No. 21 - Frederick Collier (C-Runner, Outfield) Fred Collier has great drive and intensity. He always seeks to learn more about the game and become a batter ball player. “As a coach I have to tip my hat to that,” Race said.
No. 11 - Christian Gould (3B) “Don’t think, just do,” is Christian Gould’s motto.
“Christian is solid fielder and an excellent hitter,” Race said. “No matter the situation at the plate, I am always confident that he will produce.”
No. 9 - Kyle Gould (2B & Pitcher) As a co-captain Kyle Gould leads by example.
“The kid is glue on the infield,” Race said. “He is sharp on the base paths, and seems to always be on base. Kyle is in the constant pursuit of perfection and therefore is a great leader.”
No. 10 - Jackson Lehnhart (Centerfield). In an era when dual sport athletes were thought to be extinct, along comes Jackson Lehnhart. If Lehnhart’s baseball numbers weren’t impressive enough (batting over .500 and averaging over one stolen base a game), the fact that he can go 3-3 at the plate, and then run across to the soccer field and score two goals in the same day is almost unthinkable.
No. 12 - Tal Norvell (Shortstop & Pitcher), Norvell is the ultimate utility fielder.
“I don’t believe the word ‘can’t’ is in his vocabulary,” Race said. “Since I have coached him I have seen him play almost every position and not only does he play them well but does it with style and class. He always comes through for the team and stays positive under pressing situations.”
No. 24 - Silvester Olivares (Infield) The heart of the JDHS baseball team. Comes early and leaves late and is always making people laugh. Has developed over the last few years and coaches are truly impressed at the ball player he has become.
No. 7 - Tanner Petrie (1B & Pitcher) Petrie plays a great first base, but where he dominates is on the mound. Not even the harsh rainstorms of Southeast Alaska can prevent him from a win. Tanner shows true grit every time he is on the hill. Even when Tanner isn’t pitching he is motivating and driving his team to win.
No. 15 - Jeffrey Pusich (Pitcher & 1B) Co- captain Pusich has been a leader on and off the field all year. His focus, determination, and will power to win a game are everything a coach could ask for in a starting pitcher.
No. 19 - Gary Speck (Outfield). Speck is the voice of the team and carries a big bat. The team owes a lot of its recent success to the boom that comes out of his voice and his bat.
No. 22 - Kurt Vandor (Leftfield). Co-captain Vandor has been the Crimson Bears’ best kept secret this year. Crushing the ball (batting around .500), playing a solid left field as well as dominating on the mound.