Juneau’s Gastineau Channel Little League Juniors All-Stars did not have to rely on ace pitcher Bryce Swofford on the mound to win the state championship on Saturday.
GCLL had another couple aces up their sleeve, and if this were chess they had a king and some knights. If it were checkers they would have crowned the entire roster. As a matter of fact, this team is a freakin’ Battleship of players and they sank Dimond West 5-2, exclaimed “Stratego” and struck up a banner that proclaimed “Junior League Alaska Champions” above their hats imprinted with a Darth Vader black capital letter “J” outlined in blood red.
Okay, they did follow Swofford.
But, c’mon, the sophomore-to-be for Juneau-Douglas High School has a pretty special arm.
One of those arms that raises in the air and all the men on horseback wait in anticipation for it to fall, all the foot soldiers with battle axes lean forward in expected glory, and the generals on the hilly paddock far away watch in wonder at what will be conquered next.
Swofford gave Juneau another six innings on Saturday.
He gutted through five hits, two runs, two walks and four strikeouts. League rules forced him to leave the hill when he hit 101 pitches.
He gave up a home run, maybe not the first to come in his career. Maybe some large-headed behemoth from Arkansas will be chosen in an expansion draft, go through a farm team and meet Swofford in The Show.
At any rate the troops rallied behind his arm.
Kasey “Laser” Watts was taken from first base to close the game on the mound in the seventh inning with 13 pitches and a strike out.
The Napoleonic Donavin McCurley refused to let his stature be an issue, and went 1-4 with a run scored and crouched at shortstop like a tiger in a cage, eager to get the next ball put between the white lines.
Garrett “Get Dirty” Johns, Jacob “The Archer” Dale on second base, Michael “Hail” Cesar behind the plate and Watts all scored a run. Johns, a pinch hitter, tallied his first hit of the tournament.
Watts also had two RBI, Cesar and Swofford one.
Luke “Cool Hand” Mallinger in left field, Sammy “Bedtime” McKnight on third base, Cesar, Watts, Dale, and Erik “Machine Gun” Kelly in right field all earned a walk at the plate.
Corbin “Fences” Neville in center steadied the out field and pinch hitters Owen “Macho” Mendoza, Riley “The Myth” Griffin, and Brian “Big Swing” Miramontes brought steely perseverance to the encampment.
Speaking of steals… McCurley, Cesar, Johns and Kelly had one apiece.
As far as nicknames go, I did not place one in this column for Swofford. Heck, I made up all the others.
What can you say about him? What can you say about all of them?
They played and represented Juneau as fine young men.
Juneau had defeated Dimond West in Game One 1-0, were victorious in Game Two 9-0 and had lost Game Three 11-1.
As they pushed forward across the lands of hostile Northern Alaskans, their legions grew.
Juneau’s own American Legion team joined to cheer them on as they marched into the final stadium and silenced the opposing crowd and released euphonium on ancient battlegrounds.
“It was a tough series,” Juneau manager Joe Tompkins said. “We are very proud of our boys. Thanks to the legion team for being there to cheer us on and all the parents and family friends.”
Now it is “all hands on deck,” “batten down the hatches,” “man the torpedoes” and “full speed ahead” to Vancouver, Wash., as Juneau will take on the Northwest’s best little league junior all-star state championship teams from Arizona, California (North and South), Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
“We worked hard for this,” Mallinger said. “It is a great feeling but this is only a step to our goals and dreams.”
Ah, yes… spoken like a conquering hero.
The tournament begins on Tuesday, July 29. Juneau’s first game is Wednesday against Southern California.
Juneau’s GCLL Majors Division All-Stars were swept at the state tournament in Anchorage, losing their final game to Knik 5-3. The Majors had lost 7-6 and 6-5 in the first two games of the series.
Juneau’s American Legion players Tanner Petrie and Gus Swanton were selected to the Team of Excellence All-State Legion Team by league coaches.