A lot has happened since the last time the Juneau-Douglas High School softball team played a home game at Melvin Park.
In the 53 weeks since Juneau's only home series ended last year (on May 11), the Crimson Bears won a state title, the Juneau softball team turned over 70 percent of its roster, Alaska elected a new governor and the United States started and ended a war in Iraq.
So far this short season - the first game was on April 18 - the Crimson Bears have taken road trips to Sitka for three games, Fairbanks for six, Ketchikan for three and Craig-Prince of Wales for two games. The Juneau players finally get to play a home game as the Crimson Bears host Craig-Prince of Wales for varsity games at 6 p.m. tonight and Saturday. Junior varsity games are at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. each day at Melvin Park.
"We're definitely excited," said Juneau first baseman-left fielder Danielle Larson, the only senior for the Crimson Bears. "It seems like we've been on the road for over half the season. Last year we only had one home series, but this year we've got three. It'll be stretched out, but we'll appreciate the games more."
With all the turnover - Juneau only returned four players from last year's varsity team - the Crimson Bears lost their first two road games in Sitka, both by one run in the bottom of the seventh inning. Since then, the Crimson Bears (12-2 overall, 6-2 Region V) have run off 12 straight victories despite having a lineup that's 75 percent freshmen and sophomores.
"It was kind of slow at the beginning, but we're kind of working better now," junior outfielder-third baseman Rachel Barril said. "Our freshmen pitchers are doing real good."
Entering the season, the Crimson Bears had just one pitcher with varsity experience - sophomore pitcher-first baseman Ashley Larson, Danielle's sister, who has a 5-1 record. A group of freshman pitchers - Hannah Barril, Torie Powers, Alicia Maryott and Alycia Cox (who can pitch, but hasn't yet) - has been able to step up and play at the varsity level.
Last weekend in Ketchikan, Hannah Barril threw a five-inning no-hitter, while Ashley Larson and Powers both threw one-hitters as the Crimson Bear pitching staff allowed just two hits in three games. Juneau head coach Dave Massey said he thought Barril's five-inning no-hitter might be the first no-no thrown by a Juneau pitcher in his dozen years associated with the team.
"I'm proud of the freshmen pitchers, and how they've been able to handle it mentally," Ashley Larson said.
"The person who's really improved is Alicia Maryott, who came up from the JV team," added sophomore shortstop-catcher-outfielder Jordan Johnston, who joined the Larson sisters and Rachel Barril on the varsity last year. "She's shown she has the ability."
When Juneau played Craig-Prince of Wales on Monday and Tuesday in Craig, five of the 12 Crimson Bears didn't make the trip. The Juneau softball team had been on the road so much those players felt they needed to return to school so they could maintain their grades. Even with only freshmen and sophomores on that part of the trip, the Crimson Bears still won 10-1 and 11-3.
"It felt like we'd been on the road for three weeks, especially for those of us who went to Craig," Johnston said. "We'd been gone so long, it felt like the first day of school when we got back."
Juneau will be at full strength when it hosts Craig-Prince of Wales this weekend. So far this year, Craig-Prince of Wales (1-8 overall, 1-8 Region V) has won just once, when it split with Sitka in Craig.
"I think it's really cool they've moved up to varsity," said Ashley Larson, referring to Craig-Prince of Wales only playing JV teams in previous years. "Even for those of us who didn't go, we know they've got a good team if they beat Sitka. We can't afford to take them lightly."
"They're a pretty good team, especially for how small their island is," Johnston said. "They've got some power hitters."
After this weekend, Juneau will host Sitka for three games on May 23-24 and Ketchikan for three games on May 30-31. The Crimson Bears will travel to Fairbanks for the state tournament on June 5-6 at Hez Ray Fields.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.