PALMER -- The Juneau-Douglas High School baseball team's season came to an end Saturday with a 5-2 loss to Lathrop in the consolation game of the second annual Alaska State Baseball Championships at Hermon Brothers Field.
The loss came on the heels of a heartbreaking 3-2 loss at the hands of Wasilla on Friday in the tournaments' first-round game, ending the high hopes of a state championship for the Crimson Bears. Wasilla advanced to the championship game Saturday and lost 20-8 to Service, which defeated Lathrop 2-0 in the tourney's opening game.
Juneau won the team academic award with a 3.37 team GPA. Lathrop earned the tournament's team sportsmanship award.
"Everybody was broken hearted," Crimson Bear manager Jim Ayers said. "There were some people who worked real hard. When you got guys who you played with for 10 years that are weeping after the game, it's tough."
Wasilla overcame a remarkable pitching performance by Juneau's starting pitcher Dylan Hickey on Friday. Hickey pitched the entire way, fanning 14 batters while giving up seven hits and just one earned run.
Hickey held the Warriors scoreless through five innings and nine of his strikeout victims didn't even swing at the third strike. He also earned the most outstanding pitcher award for the tournament with his effort.
"I was feeling good and had good location of my fastball," Hickey said. "They were having trouble hitting my fastball so I kept bringing it at them."
"You don't see a guy strike out that many in a game very often," Wasilla manager Jim Ressler said. "But it was nice to pull it out. We capitalized on some of Juneau's mistakes and it gave us a lift when we needed it."
Juneau opened the scoring in the second inning when Jake Dutton, who reached on a triple, scored on a single by Matt Freeman to take a 1-0 lead. The score held until the sixth when the Warriors' Brandon Halberson opened the sixth with a pinch-hit single and advanced to second on a wild pitch by Hickey.
Hickey struck out the next batter and with one out, Wasilla's Jake Jensen hit a chopper to first-baseman Evan Scandling who easily fielded the ball. But instead of stepping on the bag for the second out, Scandling threw to third base to try to catch the streaking Halberson.
The ball sailed over Zach Kohan's glove into the more than ample foul territory of Hermon Brothers Field. Halberson scored on the errant throw to tie the game at 1-1 while Jensen moved to second and scored two batters later on a double by Josh Lauruhn to give Wasilla a 2-1 lead.
Wasilla tried to keep the threat going with runners on second and third with one out, but Hickey got the Bears out of the sixth without any further damage.
"Evan Scandling's throw to third was a major-league play," Crimson Bear manager Jim Ayers said. "He knew it was the tying run and he wanting to shut it down."
Juneau came right back in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game at 2-2 when clean-up batter Brett Fairchild lined into right center that scored Jesse Blackwell from second.
Wasilla took the lead for good in the top of the seventh when John Schmelz doubled and scored on a single by Owen Butcher to make it 3-2. The Bears had their chances in their half of the seventh, helped by two Wasilla errors, but were unable to get a runner around the bases.
Wasilla's starter Jake Jensen got the win by scattering six hits over seven innings while striking out three Juneau batters and walking one. He wasn't overpowering, but worked inside and outside well to keep the Juneau batter's off-balance.
"We didn't hit that bad but we didn't produce when we needed to," Hickey said. "Overall, we didn't play as well as we should. Things happen. It was a tight game and a few mistakes made the difference."
Saturday's game had somewhat of a melancholy atmosphere compared to Friday and Juneau's hitting woes continued as the Bears could only muster four hits against Lathrop's starting pitcher Daniel Murphy who pitched into the seventh inning.
Lathrop scored first on a two-out triple by Ryan Shaver that scored Brandon Lee. Juneau answered in the fifth with an single by C.J. Corso that scored Blackwell from second base, followed by a double to the wall by Mike Rader that scored Corso to give the Bears a 2-1 lead.
The Malemutes knocked Juneau's starting pitcher Will Nicholas out of the game in the sixth inning when he gave up three runs on four consecutive hits. Brett Fairchild relieved Hickey and got the Bears out of the inning, but not before Lathrop scored one more run to make the score 5-2.
Nicholas went five and a third innings, giving up five runs on six hits with six strikeouts. Fairchild gave up one hit and struck out one in two-thirds of an inning of work.
The Bears threatened in the games final inning, loading the bases with nobody out. Lathrop pulled Murphy and put Shaver on the mound who closed out the game, striking out Rader and Joe Ayers before Scandling popped in the infield to end the game.
All totaled, Juneau had only 10 base hits in the entire tournament and its defense, which has been the team's strong point all season, made several critical errors under the pressure.
"It's disappointing to know how good these guys are and to see that stuff (errors) happen," Ayers said. "We executed well but its disappointing. Our outfield did not perform -- there was no communication. On the other hand, our pitching was great. I couldn't ask any more when you look at what they did."
Juneau was confident coming into the tournament, sporting a 12-2 regular season record and were the only team in the field who competed in the inaugural state championships last year, where they lost to East Anchorage 3-1 in the championship game.
"We were confident but there's a very fine line when it comes to being overconfident," Ayers said. "You must be confident to be believing that you are the team, but you can't overplay. When your confidence makes you overplay, that's a problem."
"It was really frustrating," Hickey said. "I don't want to take anything away from the other teams, but I thought we were the most balanced team. It wasn't meant to be. Things didn't go our way."
Jeff Kasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Warriors 3, Crimson Bears 2
Friday's game at Hermon Brothers Field
Wasilla 000 002 1 -- 3 7 3
Juneau-Douglas 010 001 0 -- 2 6 2
Hickey and Baun; Jensen and Walker, Colegrove (1). W -- Jensen. L -- Hickey. 2B -- Juneau: None; Wasilla: Butcher, Schmelz. 3B -- Juneau: Dutton; Wasilla: None. HR -- None.
Malemutes 5, Crimson Bears 2
Saturday's game at Hermon Brothers Field
Juneau-Douglas 000 020 0 -- 2 4 2
Lathrop 000 104 x -- 5 8 3
Nicholas, Fairchild (6) and Baun, Thatcher (5); Murphy, Shaver (7) and Milliken. W -- Murphy. L -- Nicholas. S -- R. Shaver. 2B -- Juneau: Rader; Lathrop: Milliken. 3B -- Juneau: None; Lathrop: R. Shaver. HR -- None.