The Juneau-Douglas High School baseball team needed another late-inning rally, but the Crimson Bears clinched a berth in the state tournament with a 6-4 victory over Sitka Thursday in Ketchikan.
The Crimson Bears trailed 4-2 entering the top of the fifth inning, but rallied for four runs to take the lead. Then pitcher Kent Mearig shut Sitka down the rest of the way, setting the Wolves down in order in the sixth and allowing just a lead-off single to open the seventh.
``The ending went pretty well, but I was kind of shaky early in the game,'' said Mearig, a senior left-handed pitcher who will get a walk-on tryout at Arizona State in the fall. ``It was pretty exciting. It feels like we're getting control and we've got some bats coming on. We've really come together as a team.''
With the victory, Juneau improved to 8-3 on the season with three games left to play -- a game against Sitka (3-9) at noon today, and another game against Sitka at noon Saturday before closing out the regular season at 3 p.m. against Ketchikan (6-6). In Thursday's other game, Ketchikan beat Sitka 12-1 as Donald Munhoven went 3-for-4 with two doubles and two RBIs while Brandon Nicholas went 3-for-3 with a double.
Ketchikan, which also plays Sitka at 6 p.m. tonight, can match Juneau's overall record if Juneau loses its remaining games and Ketchikan wins its final two games to both finish at 8-6. But Juneau holds the tie-breaker in head-to-head competition.
Juneau is the third team to clinch a berth at the inaugural state tournament June 2-3 at Palmer's Hermon Brothers Field. East Anchorage has qualified from Region IV and North Pole, which will play Juneau in the opening round, qualified from Region VI. The only berth left to be decided is in Region III, where Kodiak and Colony are battling for the spot even though an ineligible-for-postseason-play club team from Homer is actually leading the standings.
``It's awesome. We clinched it,'' said Juneau catcher Garrett Schoenberger, who will also be a walk-on at Arizona State next year. ``We're really excited. That game Wednesday (a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over Ketchikan) was huge. If we get a little bit flat, we respond so well. We're starting to come around. We're having someone new step up every game.''
``We've had a couple of close ball games,'' freshman shortstop Joe Ayers said. ``We've come back in the late innings, and that gives us confidence. We've played well in the later innings, but we need to get it going earlier. We need to jump on 'em early.''
Juneau took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning as Ayers singled with one out and went to second on an error in left, then scored on a single by Dylan Hickey. Schoenberger and Grady Treston both singled to load the bases, then Casey Walker drove in Hickey with a sacrifice fly.
Sitka made it 2-1 in the bottom of the first as starting pitcher Brett Haavig singled in Dylan Mahoskey. The Wolves added three runs in the fourth as catcher Dan Stockel hit a two-run groundrule double to center, then scored on a blooper over second base by Corey Gould.
But Juneau answered in the top of the fifth as Ayers singled in Jesse Blackwell, John Blasco scored on a passed ball, Schoenberger singled in Ayers and Walker singled in Schoenberger.
``It was the top (four guys) of our lineup again,'' Juneau coach Jim Ayers said. ``They got seven of our nine hits and scored five of our runs. We were pretty pumped up in the fifth. Garrett pulled the team over and we decided it was time to go to work.''
CRIMSON BEARS 6 WOLVES 4
Thursday's game from Ketchikan
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS200 040 0 - 6 9 0
SITKA100 300 0 - 4 6 3
Juneau-Douglas - Mearig and Schoenberger. Sitka - Haavig and Stockel. W - Mearig. L - Haavig. Sv - None. 2B - Juneau: None, Sitka: Stockel. 3B - None. HR - None.