When the season started, Juneau-Douglas High School baseball coach Jim Ayers wasn't too sure what kind of team he'd have this year.
He knew there were some talented younger players, having coached many of them to within a game of the Little League Junior Division World Series last year. But the first-year coach wasn't sure what his older players would bring, especially since Ketchikan beat them the last couple of years.
But Ayers said his eyes were opened during last weekend's series in Sitka, when Juneau posted a 4-1 record to enter the season finale leading the Region V standings. If the Crimson Bears should win at least three of their five games this weekend in Ketchikan, including at least one victory over the host Kings, Juneau should clinch the lone Region V berth in the inaugural state tournament June 2-3 at Hermon Brothers Field in Palmer.
``It turns out this team's a hard-working team,'' Ayers said. ``Ketchikan had beaten our older guys before, but our guys worked hard and they were pretty pumped after last weekend.''
Juneau (6-3 this season) opens play at 6 p.m. tonight against Ketchikan (5-5), then plays Sitka (3-6) three times at 3 p.m. Thursday, noon Friday and noon Saturday before concluding the weekend with a 3 p.m. game against Ketchikan on Saturday. Sitka and Ketchikan play each other at 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday to round out the weekend's Region V varsity schedule.
``We're going in to play baseball for five games, and we expect to play five hard games,'' Ayers said. ``We've got a couple of guys who are banged up from playing 14 innings in the rain last weekend, but it's a tough group of guys and we have some depth.''
Ayers said winning four of its five games last weekend in Sitka helped give the Crimson Bears some breathing room heading into this weekend's season finale. Ayers said he plans to start righthanded pitcher Casey Walker on the mound tonight, with lefty Kent Mearig in relief, and catcher Garrett Schoenberger will give the Crimson Bears an all-senior battery in a game that could go a long way toward Juneau's clinching the region title. Both Schoenberger and Mearig plan to walk-on with Arizona State's baseball team next year.
``We play better when we're loose than when we're tight, and having a 1-game lead should help us relax,'' Ayers said. ``If we play good defense tonight, we win the game.''
During last weekend's trip to Sitka, Juneau trailed Ketchikan in the standings by a half-game but made up two full games. Ayers said Juneau's 5-3 victory over Ketchikan and an 8-2 victory over Sitka on Friday, both played in a heavy downpour with only one error, really showed him the character of his team.
``Our defense really played tremendous `D,''' Ayers said. ``And our pitchers were 65 percent in throwing first-pitch strikes. We let it go a little on defense in the fourth game (a 3-1 loss to Ketchikan), but Dylan (Hickey) pitched a heck of a ball game. We just couldn't score for him.''
Juneau won two games when it only had four hits over the weekend, which was an improvement in being able to move runners around the bases from Juneau's first weekend, when it stranded at least nine base-runners in two losses. Ayers said he plans to stay in the scratching-for-runs mode this weekend.
``In the game we lost, it was my fault,'' Ayers said. ``We didn't go to the scratch game soon enough.''