Heartbreaking and exhilarating, breathtaking and despondent … emotions flowed across the Melvin Park Field diamond on Friday night as players from two softball powerhouses played their hardest.
Juneau’s Gastineau Channel Little League Juniors softball All-Stars did everything they could to win Game Four of their best-of-five state championship series against Nunaka Valley on Friday night but stranded 11 base runners and came up one run short, falling 3-2 and losing the title three games to one.
“You can’t win a tight game when you strand that many runners,” Juneau manager Scott Balovich said. “We hit the ball well enough to win; we just didn’t get the crucial hits at the right times and knock in the runs. It hurts, it’s tough when you think you probably should have won the game. That was two games out of this series we think we could have had. In this game, it was a break either way. This was a tight game, a great game. You have to give Daisy (Page) all the credit in the world. She pitched a great ballgame and, once again, Leah (Spargo) came in and gave us a chance.”
Megan Dallas started the game for Juneau and went two innings, throwing 45 pitches, with 25 total balls, allowing one hit and one run, walking four batters and striking out one.
Spargo relieved for four innings (69 P, 33 TB, 2 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 4 K).
“We thought that we did a super good job,” Spargo said. “We held them back for a while and we are pleased with that. If we just could have scored a couple more runs it would have made everything better. I think that Daisy, out of all the pitchers on the team, she is the best one, but I think that anyone can hit off her if they really try. Tonight I struck out against her, which was a bummer. The next step now for some of us is high school softball. It is kind of a new beginning for everybody. We are going to come back strong next year.”
Nunaka Valley’s Daisy Page pitched seven innings (109 P, 37 TB, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K).
“I am just really happy we came out with the win,” Page said. “It was a really close game. They are really good hitters and we know they can hit, but I think we just had a good defense this year to stop them.”
Added Nunaka Valley manager Jeff Boeckman, “Daisy was the key. She was hitting her spots and that kept us going.”
Juneau scored in the top of the first inning as Maxie Saceda Hurt doubled to center field, Sami Good singled to left, Alondra Echiverri reached on an error that ousted Saceda Hurt and Good scored on a wild pitch.
“It was key for me to know my team had my back,” Maxie Saceda Hurt said. “If anything happened that wasn’t supposed to happen, they would be right there to keep us all going. Knowing that they were right there made me feel really happy and confident. We are going to come back next year and take it for sure. They are a good team but we know that we can win; next year we are going to bring it even harder than we did today. We were so close.”
Nunaka Valley scored in the bottom half of the first inning as Page walked, Tala Lauvale sacrificed Page to second and Rebecca Syrup singled her home.
Juneau loaded the bases in the top of the fourth inning as Echiverri singled to center, Morgan Balovich singled to center and Dallas reached on an error. Nunaka played defense to get a fielder’s choice out on a hit by Spargo, another on an Allison Ireland-Haight hit and a final ground out by Haleigh DiCarlo.
The game remained tied at 1-1 until the bottom of the fifth inning when Nunaka’s Page walked, Lauvale singled and Syrup doubled to right field to bring them home.
Juneau’s last gasp came in the top of the seventh inning.
DiCarlo hit a hard ground out to second baseman Julia Tosi and Skylar Hickok drew three balls, fouled off two pitches and was caught for the third strike.
With two outs, Saceda Hurt reached on an error by shortstop Lauvale, Good walked, Echiverri reached on an error by second baseman Christa Rapoza that put the ball to the fence, and Saceda Hurt scored while Good was held at third base by a nifty relay throw from the Nunaka outfield.
On the final at-bat, Morgan Balovich hit a hard liner that Nunaka Valley third baseman Tosi knocked down, picked up, and threw to first for the final out.
“I thought I had a good pitch to hit,” Balovich said. “I put it off the end of the bat. I feel like I let the team down. We will definitely work on our hitting. Our bats were a little off today. We also need to work on finishing plays. The next couple of years I see us playing really well in high school. Probably I will take a day of rest tomorrow and then get back at it.”
Saceda Hurt went 2-4 at the plate (1 R), Good 2-3 (1 R, 1 BB), Echiverri 1-3 (1 BB), Balovich 1-4 (1 K), Mia Loree, Rachel Macaulay, Hickok, Spargo, Peyton Harp had one strikeout each, Dallas was 0-2, Ally Ireland-Haight 0-1, DiCarlo 0-3 and Abby Schmidt 0-1.
Syrup led Nunaka with a 2-2 outing (3 RBI, 1 BB).
“It is a great feeling to go to regions again,” Syrup said. “In 2012 we were lucky enough to have the same girls and now as a team together we achieved the same goals we were trying to get to, so I am really happy with it.”
Nunaka’s Lauvale went 1-2 (1 R), Page 0-0 (2 R, 4 BB), Beverly Larson, Rapoza, Amanda Boeckman had one walk each. Jaya Jackson, Eva Damrill, Billy-Jean Koso, Olivia Webster and Kenzie Barnhart had one strikeout apiece.
“This was a great spectacle of Alaska softball right here,” manager Scott Balovich said. “It was fun for the fans, intense for me, and the kids feel bad right now. A couple hits here and there and we win. I told the girls to hold their heads high, they played extremely well and we go after them again next year. I told them ‘Thanks for taking me along for the ride.’ They put in so much work and so much time and so much effort. The coaching staff couldn’t be prouder of them. They represented Juneau fantastically. These were wonderful games to be a part of, their hard work was not in vain, they played great softball. One base knock here or there and we could be the ones holding the banner. These two teams are very evenly matched. We told them to hold their heads high and go eat some ice cream. I won’t be coaching again. They have run their course with me. I gave them big hugs and told them I loved them and thanked them for letting me be their coach.”
Nunaka Valley advances to play in the West Regional Tournament at Tucson, Arizona starting July 30.