Speed may be the key for the Juneau-Douglas High School softball team this weekend.
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The Crimson Bears (19-0), champions of the Railbelt Conference, play the Cook Inlet Conference's fourth-seeded team, South Anchorage, at 9:30 a.m. Friday in Anchorage in the State Softball Large School Tournament.
This year's tournament will take place at Cartee Fields in Anchorage, rather than the Hez Ray Softball Complex in Fairbanks. A key difference at Cartee Fields is that the diamonds will be covered in artificial turf.
Rather than playing on dirt fields, on turf the ball has a tendency to travel faster on the bounce. This places extra pressure on the defense, especially the outfielders, to read and react to the ball coming off an opponent's bat.
In preparation, JDHS spent an hour of its 212 hour practice on the artificial turf football field of Adair-Kennedy Memorial Stadium to get accustomed to the surface.
"The ball definitely bounces a lot harder and does this top-spin-type thing," Juneau-Douglas junior outfielder Sammy Roguska said. "When it bounces, it bounces high and you're not really anticipating it because our fields are obviously dirt. Being in the outfield, that's kind of huge."
While the ball may be flying with more velocity off the Cartee Fields turf, speed has been the Crimson Bears' trusted friend all season.
Junior pitcher Andrea Doerflinger used her powerful fastball with pinpoint accuracy to help keep JDHS undefeated. She also threw a perfect game in a 5-0 win over Sitka last Tuesday.
On the basepaths, however, is where Juneau-Douglas' speed translates into runs
With a series of bunts, steals and risk-taking chances along the basepaths, the athletic Bears seek to apply pressure on opposing defenses.
"We have a lot of kids that can run this year," JDHS coach Dave Massey said. "If you put the ball down and run hard, it's like the offensive equivalent of a basketball team that plays pressure defense. Sooner or later, a team will screw up and it'll give you something you can use. Even if you don't get a base hit, they're going to make errors. People will say, 'Well they made errors. They gave it to you.' Well, we helped them create errors by giving them difficult chances and putting pressure on them."
By play a high-octane style of offense, JDHS hopes to create doubt in the infielders' minds.
For the ASAA softball brackets, check out http://www.asaa.org, click on softball, then state tournament brackets
Meet the Crimson Bears
Juneau-Douglas High School softball team
Torie Powers, sr
Hannah Barril, sr.
Alycia Cox, sr.
Katie Laliberte, sr.
Sara Manning, sr.
Sammy Roguska, jr.
Andrea Doerflinger, jr.
Kayla Janelle, jr.
Tara Hansen, jr.
Madison Massey, jr.
Nicole Fenumiai, so.
Carrie Laliberte, so.
Cortney Wagner, so.
Annie Hegar, fr.
Darby Brown, fr.
Fast, intelligent baserunning can create plenty of headaches for a defense.
When one error could lead to multiple runs, any mistake may prove fatal to a team's state championship hopes. By forcing the opposition into errors, JDHS hopes to improve its chances of a third straight state title.
"By being aggressive," JDHS second baseman Hannah Barril said, "you can actually make the defense make errors."
The Crimson Bears aren't just about small-ball, however.
JDHS smacked five home runs this season - two each by Roguska and Doerflinger and one by Barril. Katie Laliberte, Sara Manning, Torie Powers, Alycia Cox, Madison Massey and Kayla Janelle can also hit for power.
"Basically, I like to have a team that hits and if we for some reason don't have our hitting shoes on it's nice to have something else to go to," Dave Massey said. "Bunting and using the team speed we have is something we like to use."
Juneau-Douglas' game against the Wolverines on Saturday represents a rematch of last year's state tournament opener.
The Crimson Bears entered last year's tourney as a four-seed under the Alaska School Activities Association's old seeding criteria. This year, the seeds were determined by order of conference finish.
Friday's winner takes on either Chugiak or Colony later that day. In the other end of the bracket, CIC champion Eagle River faces North Pole while Lathrop battles Service.
The championship game is slated for 4 p.m. Saturday, with a 6:30 p.m. rematch if necessary.
"Basically we just like to do what we do," Dave Massey said. "If we play our game as well as we can, if it's good enough, we'll win and if it isn't, we got beat by a better team."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com