As the only senior for the Juneau-Douglas High School softball team, first baseman-left fielder Danielle Larson has been called upon to be a steadying influence for the young Crimson Bears.
With only three upperclassmen on the team - there are two juniors on the squad - Larson's leadership has been critical as the Crimson Bears overcame the loss of six seniors from last year's state championship team to graduation. Juneau lost its first two games of the season, but since then has won 17 straight and put itself into position for another run at the state title.
The Crimson Bears will honor Larson this weekend during their final home games of the season. Juneau's varsity will host Ketchikan at 7 p.m. tonight, then for two games at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday at Melvin Park.
"This will be more like an ending to the year and my career in high school sports," said Larson, who already went through a Senior Night with Juneau's girls basketball team. "It's going to be kind of weird (being the only senior). It'll be more of an individual experience."
"We're hoping to make it really special for her, especially since she's my sister," said Ashley Larson, a sophomore pitcher-first baseman and Danielle's younger sister. "We want to try and make it memorable for her."
The Crimson Bears will have other things on their minds than Senior Night, though.
Juneau freshman pitcher-outfielder-second baseman Torie Powers sprained her ankle sliding into home plate during a game last weekend against Sitka. On Tuesday, Juneau head coach Dave Massey said Powers definitely is out this weekend and they don't know about her availability for the state tournament June 5-6 in Fairbanks.
With Powers sidelined, that means Juneau will be making some adjustments to its lineup this weekend.
Massey said freshmen Alicia Maryott and Alycia Cox will see more time on the mound - joining Ashley Larson and freshman Hannah Barril in the rotation. He also said Jordan Johnston, Danielle Larson, Rachel Barril and Cox will rotate through the outfield spots, while Johnston, Hannah Barril and Melissa White will play second and shortstop. Even though Juneau only carries 12 players on its varsity roster, he doesn't anticipate moving a junior varsity player up while Powers is out.
"I feel after last weekend, I know I can go out there a lot easier," said Maryott, who moved up to the varsity team early in the season. "I pitched three innings, and that's the longest I've pitched all season. I'll go as long as they want me to. I think I can do a whole game, if we're playing well."
"I'll probably be in the outfield," Cox said. "All 12 of us are about the same ability level, so we can fill in for each other. But we'll all miss (Powers). We're excited for another home series and another home crowd."
Juneau (17-2 overall, 11-2 Region V) easily could have been looking past this week, had it not been for the injury to Powers and Senior Night. The Crimson Bears qualified for the state tournament weeks ago, and last weekend they swept three games from the Sitka Wolves - the only team to beat Juneau this year. Ketchikan (4-14 overall, 2-11 Region V) has been struggling, so it would be easy for the Crimson Bears to focus on the state tournament.
"We still want to do well," Danielle Larson said. "We want to keep our momentum going, and this weekend is helping how we're seeded at state. This will let us try out a couple of things with her injury. We'll definitely be one player short, but we want to play well for her. We're just trying to do as well as we can. We want to finish well."
"With Torie being out, it makes the pitchers have more pressure. We want to pick up the slack," said Ashley Larson, who threw a no-hitter against Sitka last weekend, the second no-no of the season for Juneau (Hannah Barril had the other).
"I didn't really know I had a no-hitter until the end of the game. I only had two strikeouts, so it was all due to my defense. It's really nice to have a bunch of strikeouts, but Sitka had a lot of hitters that would swing at a first-pitch strike. I didn't want to get down in the count and give up my options."
The Juneau and Ketchikan junior varsity teams also will play three games this weekend - at 5 p.m. tonight, and at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. on Saturday at Melvin Park. There will be three games between middle school teams representing Juneau and Ketchikan - at 4 p.m. tonight at the Lena Loop Field, at 11 a.m. Saturday at Lena Loop and at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Melvin Park.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.