It wasn't the sweep some of the players wanted, but the Juneau-Douglas High School baseball team's split of a four-game series with the Ketchikan Kings this weekend was enough to clinch a return trip to the state tournament.
The two-time defending state champion Crimson Bears split a pair of doubleheaders with the Kings on Friday and Saturday at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park, losing the first match in each doubleheader before winning the nightcap games.
On Friday, Ketchikan won the opener 4-3 in 10 innings before Juneau won the second game 13-3 in five innings because of the 10-run rule. On Saturday, sloppy defense and too many walks gave Ketchikan an 11-8 victory in the opener, but the Crimson Bears closed out the regular season with a 5-2 victory.
Juneau (11-5 overall) needed at least one victory this weekend to earn a trip to the state tournament June 4-5 at Growden Memorial Park in Fairbanks. Several of the Crimson Bears said they wanted a sweep of the four games entering the series, but they were happy to get at least two wins heading into the state tournament.
"It was real important for us to get in the right direction," junior catcher Chris Dillon said of Juneau's victory Saturday night. "Losing three of four is not the right direction."
"That last game was huge, here, for our seniors," senior pitcher-centerfielder Sergio Magallanes said. "We needed to end up on a good note."
In Friday's early game, Juneau squandered a strong outing by junior pitcher-first baseman Zach Mixson, who allowed five hits, three walks and two runs with 10 strikeouts in eight innings.
But Ketchikan's Casey Bass was the winning pitcher after he threw 10 innings with three runs allowed on 10 hits, two walks and five strikeouts. Bass also hit a pair of doubles, including an RBI double in the 10th off reliever Matt Greely and a run scored on Michael Meacock's 10th-inning single.
"We've got to win them all, and it feels good to win the first one," Bass said. "We haven't won the first game in a series all year."
Ricky Grams homered for Ketchikan (7-9 overall) and Corey Howe doubled. Erik Scholl went 4-for-5 with a double, an RBI and a run for Juneau, while C.J. Keys went 2-for-5 with a run and two stolen bases and Ryan Gorle went 2-for-5 with an RBI and three steals.
In Friday's late game, the Crimson Bears mixed long ball and small ball to claim the victory. The Juneau trio of Scholl, Gorle and Magallanes combined to steal seven bases, while Mixson, Magallanes and Keys all hit homers.
Juneau scored four runs in the first inning as Mixson hit a three-run homer, then added three more runs in the second as Keys hit a solo shot. After taking an 8-0 lead into the fourth, Juneau gave up three runs. But the Crimson Bears scored five runs in the fifth, as Magallanes hit a three-run homer and Mixson's RBI single with two outs ended the game because of the 10-run rule.
"Me and Sergio had just four hits the last series (against Sitka on May 21-22), so we needed the top (of the order) to get on and get around the bases," Keys said. "Something we need to do is score some runs when Mix (Mixson) is pitching. We can't seem to get more than three runs when he pitches and Mix is unhittable."
"It was nice having them (Keys and Magallanes) on base when I was up so I got good pitches to look at," said Scholl, who reached base in eight of his nine plate appearances on Friday (5-for-8 with a walk and reaching on two errors). "I don't know why we lose one each series, but it's good to lose once in a while. It keeps us on our toes."
Magallanes said he was happy with the way Juneau responded to Friday's 10-inning loss, especially since Friday night's victory clinched Juneau's state berth.
"It's in the dugout," Magallanes said. "We need to be up, picking each other up. ... It's nice to know we can hit the long ball and play small ball."
"It's awesome, big time," Mixson said of clinching. "I think it (losing) wakes us up. For some reason we came out flat."
Saturday afternoon, Juneau came out flat again as the Crimson Bears committed eight errors and walked seven batters with another batter hit by a pitch. It was so bad early in the game Ketchikan scored its first six runs on just one hit.
After Ketchikan scored four runs in the first and two more in the second, Juneau rallied to tie the game 4-4 and 6-6. But when the Kings scored five more runs in the fourth inning, it was too much for the Crimson Bears to overcome. Juneau could answer for two of the runs in the sixth and had runners at second and third in the seventh when the game ended.
In the nightcap, Juneau started all nine of its seniors, with some taking unusual positions - for example, Magallanes, a lefty, started at shortstop instead of his usual center field and Scholl took center instead of his usual shortstop. Juneau senior pitcher Jordan Gray struggled a bit during the first three innings, allowing Ketchikan runners in scoring position each inning but keeping the Kings from scoring.
The Crimson Bears were having similar troubles scoring against Ketchikan's Grams, but finally broke through with three runs on three singles, a sacrifice bunt and an error in the bottom of the fourth to take a 3-0 lead. Ketchikan's Kyle Howe hit a solo homer in the fifth inning, but Juneau scored two more runs on a pair of singles and an error in the bottom half of the inning. Ketchikan's last run came on back-to-back doubles by Grams and Ben Voetberg in the sixth, but the Crimson Bears got out of the inning on double-play ball.
"It felt good, really good," Gray said. "Nothing feels better to a pitcher than to get out of a big jam like that. I owe a lot of it to my teammates for backing me up and making big plays."
"This will give us good momentum for state," Greely said.
The Crimson Bears will play an alumni team in a scrimmage game at 3 p.m. Monday at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park, then will head to state this weekend.
In junior varsity action this weekend, the Juneau JV dropped a 3-0 decision to Wrangell's varsity and lost 5-4 to the Prince of Wales varsity on Thursday. The Juneau JV edged the Ketchikan JV 5-4 on Friday and lost 9-3 to the POW varsity on Saturday. Scores were not available from the three POW-Wrangell games this weekend, or from the Ketchikan JV's games with POW and Wrangell on Saturday.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
KINGS 11, CRIMSON BEARS 8
Saturday's first game from Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park
KETCHIKAN 420 500 0 - 11 6 1
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 420 002 0 - 8 7 8
Ketchikan - Meacock, Montgomery (6) and Brown. Juneau-Douglas - Vick, Moen (1), Ridle (5) and Dillon. WP - Meacock. LP - Moen. Sv - None. 2B - Ketchikan 0, Juneau 1 (Muse 1). 3B - None. HR - None.
CRIMSON BEARS 5, KINGS 2
Saturday's second game from Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park
KETCHIKAN 000 011 0 - 2 7 2
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 000 032 X - 5 6 3
Ketchikan - Grams and Kolanko. Juneau-Douglas - Gray, Greely (5), Magallanes (7) and Muse, Dillon (2). WP - Gray. LP - Grams. Sv - Magallanes. 2B - Ketchikan 2 (Grams 1, Voetberg 1), Juneau 0. 3B - None. HR - Ketchikan 1 (K. Howe 1), Juneau 0.
KINGS 4, CRIMSON BEARS 3
Friday's first game from Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park
KETCHIKAN 010 001 000 2 - 4 7 1
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 001 100 000 1 - 3 10 1
Ketchikan - Bass and Brown. Juneau-Douglas - Mixson, Greely (9) and Dillon. WP - Bass. LP - Greely. Sv - None. 2B - Ketchikan 3 (Bass 2, C. Howe 1), Juneau 2 (Muse 1, Scholl 1). 3B - None. HR - Ketchikan 1 (Grams 1), Juneau 0.
CRIMSON BEARS 13, KINGS 3
(game ended after five innings, 10-run rule)
Friday's second game from Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park
KETCHIKAN 000 30 - 3 6 5
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 431 05 - 13 10 0
(two outs when last run scored)
Ketchikan - Montgomery, Voetberg (2) and Brown. Juneau-Douglas - Muse, Greely (4) and Dillon. WP - Greely. LP - Montgomery. Sv - None. 2B - Ketchikan 1 (Bass 1), Juneau 0. 3B - Ketchikan 0, Juneau 1 (Kohan 1). HR - Ketchikan 0, Juneau 3 (Mixson 1, Keys 1, Magallanes 1).