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Much like the Juneau-Douglas baseball team's quest back to the top of the mountain after winning a state championship two years ago before coming up short last season, the Crimson Bears softball team is looking to regain the crowns it won in 2007 and '08.
"We were out of the running last year. Mentally, it was a tough year for us," manager Dave Massey said. "We tried to get ourselves up and it just didn't work. We just didn't have a characteristic JD softball tournament.
"I'm hopeful that we'll bounce back this year."
Junior short stop Kalea Chapman, who was on the varsity in 2008, said the team will call on its wealth of past experience.
"We want to win this one for our seniors because they've been our leaders for forever," she said. "When we go up to the plate, we need to be focused and let it come to us.
"When we won state (in 2008), we got into a groove and just kept going. We rallied and rallied, and just kept hitting and hitting. Then, we were jumping for joy and it was a great feeling."
The path back to that feeling for JDHS (16-1) in the double elimination large school state tournament begins against South Anchorage (9-7) at 11 a.m. today at Anchorage's Cartee Fields. The victor will face the winner of East Anchorage (13-6) and West Valley (11-5) at 3 p.m., while the losers will play at 1 p.m.
The opposite side of the bracket pits Lathrop (17-3) -he only team to defeat the Bears this year -gainst West Anchorage (8-11) at 9 a.m., and Chugiak (16-4) against Colony (5-10) at 11 a.m.
Saturday's third-round winner's bracket game is at 9:30 a.m., and the championship games are at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m, if a second game is needed. It will essentially take a team four wins in five games to take the title.
Massey said last year's shortcomings bear no factor in this team's motivation.
"Typically, we don't try to jack up one way or the other. We just go out and play our game. And if we play our game, we're going to be right there and we figure that we'll win if we're supposed to," he said. "If somebody else beats us, then they are supposed to win. They'll have to earn it, just like us."
Massey said Tuesday that the pitching rotation was not yet set, but the coaching staff and players will discuss it and see who might be the best option against each opponent.
The key is for the Bears to simply continue doing what they've done all year -ake at the plate and play steady defense behind whomever is in the circle.
As a team, JDHS has just two players hitting less than .300, and the three-headed pitching staff, consisting of seniors Brittany Fenumiai and Krista Barril and junior Jennifer Nelson, combined for a jaw-dropping ERA of .68 after giving up just six earned runs in 79 innings.
"This year, we've been putting offensive pressure on other teams inning after inning, and 'solid' is an understatement for our pitching," Massey said. "We hold opponents down and, typically, that's what you want. That's been our mode of operation this year."
The surprise of the staff has been Barril, who battled consistency in the past and never pitched a varsity game before this season.
"I just think it's because I'm a senior this year and I didn't want Brittany to have all the pressure on her. And Jennifer is going to have to deal with being the only returning pitcher next year," Barril said of her emergence. "I just thought I needed to step it up and come out of retirement, as we always say."
Barril said she didn't change much as far as mechanics, but everything fell into place at the right time.
"Initially, Krista was a safety plan in case Brittany didn't make it back from shoulder surgery," Massey said. "Basically, her problem had always been control problems. All of a sudden this year, that's never been in question. She's been lights out and throws strikes at will. She has tremendous speed and a lot of movement on her balls, and a changeup that works."
And the straw that stirs the drink behind the plate is junior Kaci Hansen, who is one of only two catchers ever to call their own games for Massey.
"We talk about how to approach hitters, and the pitchers seem really comfortable with how she does it," Massey said. "She works with them and they give each other feedback. She's done a great job and she seems to enjoy it -njoy the game within the game."
Indeed she does, comparing the mind games to a sort of chess match.
"A lot of catchers don't like the stress because it's a mental game along with the physical. You have to think through what hitter is doing what and remember where certain pitches have gone before," Hansen said. "It's a lot of fun to be able to call two outside pitches on a hitter and then take them with an inside pitch, or hit them with a changeup. Knowing that I called it, it's like a personal accomplishment."
Hansen said no matter what happens, the Bears are a championship caliber team.
"We want it. We have a good team dynamic. We're good friends on and off the field, and we want to go in with a strong head on our shoulders, knowing that we can do it," she said. "Our team is strong enough to take it all the way. Our confidence is strong and we know that we should be champions, even if we don't win."