Two years ago, Kyle Carver left Ketchikan and moved to Juneau, made friends with Gabe Storie and other youngsters, and became part of a boyhood community that loves to play baseball.
On Friday at Miller Field, Carver caught a complete game from Storie and hit two monster homeruns as Juneau’s Gastineau Channel Little League Majors All-Stars defeated Ketchikan 8-2 for the District Championship.
“It felt good,” Carver said. “It felt really good to come back and beat them because we did not make it as far as we would have liked last year, and it feels really good to win districts this year.”
Juneau had one thing on their mind all tournament long: Do not repeat!
That is, do not lose the title game like they did last season at Sitka.
In the top of the first inning, Christian Ludeman singled to center field and Carver hit his first homerun into the gathering of pickup trucks parked behind center field with their tailgates down and fans enjoying cold beverages and the view.
“I just put my head down and started running,” Carver said. “I didn’t see the ball go at all.”
Storie struck out the Ketchikan side in the bottom of the first inning, three of his 15 strikeouts on the night, with opposing pitcher James Nordland getting a double with two outs.
Nordland also was in top form on the mound, going four innings until he hit his pitch count of 90 (33 of which were balls). Nordland allowed seven hits on the night and eight runs, walked three and struck out 10, including Juneau’s first eight outs.
Juneau put three more runs on the board in the top of the third inning as Storie walked, Christian Ludeman walked and was replaced by special pinch runner Cameron Eppers, and Carver lifted his second home run near the snack shack past the right field fence for a 5-0 lead.
Juneau added their final three runs in the top of the fourth, as Brandt Hultberg led off with a bunt and Luis Mojica deposited another ball near the snack shack for a 7-0 score. Eppers earned a walk, advanced on a passed ball and scored on a Storie single.
“They looked great,” Juneau manager Jeremy Ludeman said. “The boys showed up to play, they played well and overall they battled inning to inning. Gabe (Storie) went the distance and that is what it is going to take to win at state. The nice thing to see was some of the guys deep in the lineup came through. You never know who is going to show up on any given day, and that is what it is going to take to be successful in the end. The guys did a great job.”
Storie did more than go the distance.
He totaled 80 pitches with just 19 total balls, allowing three hits and walking just two batters.
“I feel excited,” Storie said. “My curveball was working the best probably. I know (Kyle Carver) will catch it. This means a lot because we get to go to state and have some fun there.”
Added Carver: “We just try to paint the corners pretty much. Just get them swinging and let our defense work behind us.”
Juneau’s offense gave their defense plenty of cushion.
Ketchikan’s two runs came in the bottom of the fifth inning as Kristian Pihl led off with a single to left. Carsten Jasper lined a shot to right field that Juneau’s Cameron Eppers dove to catch but the ball made it to the fence. Pihl scored and the ball was overthrown past third baseman Brock McCormick, allowing Jasper to score.
That inning was the only miscue for Juneau.
Ketchikan’s season seemed to be summed up in their final at bat.
Against another opponent, Ketchikan first baseman Jackson Kaye’s line drive shot would have found a hole for a clean hit. Instead, Juneau second baseman Brandt Hultberg exploded from his crouch to caress the hard hit cowhide into the leather of his glove for the championship out.
“I thought it was going to come to me because our pitchers have been really good this tournament,” Hultberg said. “The opponents have been late on the pitches, so I was kind of expecting it. I didn’t really think, I just caught it and then I thought, ‘We won.’ It was great because last year, we didn’t get as far as we wanted and to make it this year and to beat someone from last year was great.”
“I just don’t feel anyone has the depth to go bat-to-bat with them,” Ketchikan head coach Derek McGarrigan said of Juneau’s Majors. “They are good, they have some ballers, some really talented players and depth.”
McGarrigan was a little league opponent of Juneau in 1992 and on into high school seasons with Kayhi.
McGarrigan’s father Jim is on his coaching staff and his son Hayden is on the team.
“You play against Juneau ... all the way up through high school,” McGarrigan said. “They had our number all through high school, we just couldn’t beat them, they were really who we strived to beat. It is fun to come back with your kids and play. It is kind of generational disdain for each other. We all get along but Juneau is our only rival, the only one we care about. Their (ages) 9-10 team took the title; their Junior league smoked us last night, so now we tried to beat the machine. It is fun to be here. My best memory from little league was being right here, traveling for All-Stars, and trying to beat Juneau. Those are the stories you tell your children, how we almost beat Juneau.”
Added Jim McGarrigan: “Juneau kind of sets the bar and it makes us better trying to get there… and it makes them better trying to keep it from us, and the smaller towns in Southeast are trying to achieve getting one of us and we are trying to not be got. It kind of makes everyone better.”
Juneau will play at the state tournament in Anchorage on July 23-28 in a best-of-five series against Dimond West. The winner advances to the Regionals at San Bernardino, Calif., Aug. 1-10. The Little League World Series is at Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Aug. 14-24.
Juneau’s manager Ludeman grew up in Los Angeles and played for the Metropolitan Little League in Santa Fe Springs. He came to Juneau in 1994 and played American Legion in 1997.
“I enjoyed going through the all-star bracket play,” Ludeman said. “I enjoyed meeting the opposing players. That is what is about, that is what we hope to keep doing.”
Unofficial stats show Juneau’s Carver was 2-4 (2 R, 5 RBI, 2 K), Mojica 1-3 (1 R, 2 RBI, 1 K), Storie 1-3 (1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K), C. Ludeman 2-3 (1 R, 1 BB, 1 K), Hultberg 1-3 (1 R, 1 K), Eppers 0-1 (2 R, 1 K), McCormick 1-2, Brennon Ludeman 1-2, Bryson Echiverri 0-2 (1 K), Cody Requa 0-1, Tosh Robinson 0-2 (2 K), Olin Rawson 0-1 (1 K), and Tristan Harwell 0-1 (1 K).
Ketchikan’s Paule relieved on the mound for the final two innings (22 P, 8 TB, 2 H, 2 K). At the plate Jasper went 1-3 (1 R, 1 K), Pihl 1-1 (1 R, 1 BB), Devin Dalin 0-2 (2 K), Vinny Trujillo 0-1 (1 K), Nordland 1-3 (2 K), Finley 0-3 (3 K), Kaye 0-3 (2 K), Nolan Hughes 0-1 (1 BB), Paule 0-2 (2 K), Ar-Jhay Mendoza 0-1 (1 K), Traudt 0-1 (1 K), and Tyler Slick 0-0.