The Crimson Bears had already clinched the top seed for next weekend's Southeast Conference Tournament at Ketchikan by the time Saturday's Senior Night doubleheader rolled around, but every game against rivals Sitka and KayHi seems to play out like each teams' seasons are on the line.
The Juneau-Douglas High School baseball team (10-4 overall, 9-3 SEC) closed out the meaty part of their 6-game homestand by falling in a tight 2-1 contest to Sitka early Saturday and spreading a pair of early-ending romps over Ketchikan across Friday and Saturday evenings at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park - although each ended early for different reasons.
The Crimson Bears' loss to conference runner-up Sitka (6-6 SEC) was not only their lone defeat through five games this weekend - including Thursday's romps over Sitka and Petersburg - it was the only game that was, well ... a game.
"We knew we already had the top seed going into regionals, but it wasn't a game we wanted to lose," JDHS head coach Jaime Kissner said. "We just need to keep the kids excited and take the momentum (from the other wins) into the tournament."
Both teams scored a run in the first inning, with JDHS junior catcher Aaron Cohen going long on a solo homer to knot the score in the bottom of the stanza. The scoreboard then froze, as both JDHS senior starter Beau Damien and Sitka senior David Reynolds each squeezed out of a few tight spots to enter the fifth with the same score.
Damien's arm faltered first, though, as he walked his first batter in the top of the fifth and then allowed back-to-back singles. Sitka's David Houston slapped the latter single into left field - his only hit of the game - to plate the go-ahead run, and Damien was then replaced on the mound by reliever Dylan Baker.
"We already saw (Damien) in Sitka, and I knew he liked to throw a lot of off-speed stuff at us," Houston said. "I was pretty relaxed and I just wanted a clutch hit. We wanted a few more (runs), but it felt good to end it."
Damien tossed four innings, allowing just two runs on six hits.
Baker inherited a heavy load, with runners at first and second and no outs, but managed to escape unscathed as he forced a fielder's choice, struck out a batter and had the next Sitka batter fly out to center field to end the inning - and the threat.
JDHS threatened in the bottom of the fifth, as Hunter Mallinger was hit by a pitch, Vinnie Isturis singled and Cohen was intentionally walked to load the bases with two outs for senior Corey Mahar. Mahar grounded out to the pitcher, though, to end the inning.
Junior Alex DeRocher appeared to start a rally in the bottom of the seventh, as he reached on an error by the Sitka shortstop. Play was halted while the coaches and umpires met for roughly 10 minutes, though, and DeRocher was eventually ruled out for illegally re-entering the game out of order.
"I didn't know I was out of order," DeRocher said after the game. "I was just told to go hit so I was hitting. I was just standing there (at first) and somebody told me I was out."
Kissner accepted blame for the unfortunate error, saying he was also unaware that DeRocher was out of order. Sitka's 15-year head coach Ed Conway was all too aware of the mix-up in the opposing dugout.
"When he went up to hit we were pretty sure that was the case," Conway said. "We just sat back and waited to see what the result was before we said anything."
DeRocher was just the first out of the inning, but the extended discussion appeared to visibly dull the Bears' offensive attack. The next two JDHS batters went down on strikes and a groundout, respectively, to end the game.
"That (DeRocher) out was a big relief," Reynolds said. "That was big for us. It was a good call by the coach. Juneau's a good team, but I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to do."
Reynolds went the full seven innings for Sitka, allowing just four hits.
"That was hands-down David's best game of the year," Conway said. "He was locating his fastball all day. He has three pitches, but it always comes down to locating the fastball."
Baker closed out the game strong for Juneau-Douglas, allowing just one hit and no runs in three innings.
Cohen's home run and senior Sean Bavard's 1-for-4 night paced the JDHS offense.
The Crimson Bears are scheduled to wrap up their lengthy homestand and their regular season by hosting another SEC rival, Wrangell, in a morning game today. The scheduled start time is 10 a.m. at Adair-Kennedy.
JDHS 11, KayHi 2
The five Crimson Bears seniors - Mahar, Bavard, Damien, Dakotah Smith and Hunter Mallinger - were all honored in a Senior Night ceremony prior to Saturday night's game against Ketchikan. The players were announced and presented roses to their parents before entering the field together. With the first pitch from Ketchikan, the teams started handing out roses of a different kind.
"This senior group's a tough bunch," Mallinger said. "Our skill ranges, but altogether we're a pretty good team."
The top of the first inning was quiet, as JDHS starter James San Miguel walked three Kings to load the bases, but escaped with no runs scored after second baseman Bavard scooped up a grounder and flipped it to shortstop Vinnie Isturis to kick off an inning-ending double play.
Bavard was plunked by the first offering from KayHi junior starter Simon Brooks in the bottom of the first, though, and an unofficial game-long tit-for-tat brushback contest began.
Cohen slammed a two-run homer over the center field wall two batters later, and Mahar made it back-to-back with his own solo shot directly after. Baker and Smith both followed with base knocks and DeRocher plated both with a hard line-drive single to center. The inning would end with JDHS up 5-0, but not before Mallinger took his base after also being stung by a hard inside pitch.
San Miguel allowed a pair of singles early in the top of the second inning, and KayHi cut the deficit to 5-1 after scoring on a passed ball.
Cohen was the third Juneau-Douglas hit batter with one out in the bottom of the second, and the bases were then loaded after Mahar and Baker both drew walks. Smith plated Cohen with a sacrifice fly to right field, and DeRocher singled home JDHS's seventh run before Smith was tagged out trying to beat the throw from center field to the plate.
The Kings began to rally on San Miguel in the third, as two singles and a walk pulled them within 7-2 with just one out and runners on the corners. Cohen took the mound for just one pitch - a ball - before being immediately replaced by Bavard, who plunked the first KayHi batter he faced. Bavard then closed out the inning with a strikeout and a pop out to end the threat.
"I guess the coach just wanted to get me in because I'm a senior," Bavard said. "All the seniors got to play today."
Bavard took the plate with two outs in the bottom of the third, and dodged a first pitch that fell behind his back. He then slapped the next offering up the middle for a single, opening up a three-run rally. Cohen would drive in two runs on a double, and Mahar would drive in another on a double of his own before the third out.
Bavard would hit another batter in the top of the fourth, and DeRocher would single in the final run of the game in the bottom to close the game's scoring.
Kissner began subbing out his seniors, one at a time, between pitches in the top of the fifth to gather a final applause from the crowd, and Ketchikan's coaches gathered their team and equipment to leave the field mid-inning.
Ketchikan coaches and players were unavailable for comment after the game.
Bavard picked up the win with 2 ⅔ innings of work, allowing one hit and no runs while striking out four.
"We're feeling good after the weekend, but we definitely thought we would be feeling better before the Sitka loss," Bavard said. "But I'm glad the weather was nice and we clinched the top seed for regionals."
San Miguel tossed 2 ⅓ innings, allowing three hits, four walks and two runs, while striking out one.
Brooks allowed 11 runs on 12 hits in four innings for Ketchikan.
DeRocher was 3-for-3 with 4 RBIs to lead the Bears offense. Mahar was 2-for-2 with two RBIs in support. Cohen added a 2-for-2 effort with four RBIs. Baker was 1-for-2.
"It was a great weekend," Mallinger said. "It's tough to play six games, but I think we definitely did our jobs."
JDHS 23, KayHi 1
The Crimson Bears slapped out their 23 runs on 25 hits in their only game Friday night, and Mahar won his first varsity game as a pitcher.
Mahar, who finished 4-for-4 at the plate with five RBIs, took the mound in relief of Bavard for the third inning. He tossed three frames before the game was ended by the mercy rule in the fifth, allowing just one hit and one run while striking out two.
Bavard struck out four of the seven batters he faced, while surrendering one hit and no runs.
Bavard and Mallinger joined Mahar as a perfect 4-for-4 with five RBIs in the game.
Keath Flint was 3-for-3 with one run batted in. Baker and Jamie Daniel both finished 2-for-3.
Jeff Whicker and Kyle Seibel both had a hit for Ketchikan. Seibel's knock drove in his team's only run.