FAIRBANKS - Deep-six those pre-tourney seedings because now there is no doubt and no debate about which high school softball team is the best in the state.
It is the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears.
Juneau-Douglas defeated the Lathrop Malemutes twice on Saturday to take home its second-straight state title, steamrolling through the tournament without a single loss and without ever trailing in four games. The Bears shutout Lathrop, 9-0, in a Saturday morning game to assure themselves of a spot in the championship final, while the Malemutes battled their way back to a rematch with Juneau-Douglas in the championship tilt by advancing through the loser's bracket with a win top-seeded Chugiak.
In the championship contest, Juneau-Douglas dominated the Malemutes in a 10-0 shutout in six innings.
JDHS entered this year's state tournament undefeated and as the defending state champions, yet the Crimson Bears were seeded only fourth in the eight-team, double elimination tournament. That relatively low seed forced Juneau to face a tough, fifth-seeded South Anchorage team - and renowned rise-ball pitcher Heather Lyons - in the opening game on Friday.
The Juneau-Douglas girls were definitely up for the challenge, though, as they defeated South, 7-2, behind the strong pitching of Ashley Larson, Andrea Doerflinger and Madison Massey. The trip held South to two runs on just four hits.
Juneau first baseman Torie Powers solved the riddle of Lyons' rising fastball by lacing two doubles and driving in three runs.
The Crimson Bears then faced undefeated top-seed, Chugiak, later on Friday.
Juneau not only beat Chugiak, but shutout the top-seeded Mustangs, 3-0, behind the complete game four-hit gem thrown by Larson, who also hit a towering solo home run in the fourth inning and then scored again in the sixth.
Juneau rapped out a total of eight hits off of Chugiak ace Andrea Waters, with Crimson Bears catcher Nicole Bavard driving in the other two Juneau runs in the game.
Play ended on Friday with Juneau-Douglas not knowing its semifinal opponent.
Rain forced officials to end Friday's game between Service and Lathrop after three innings with the Malemutes ahead 4-1.
Lathrop won the early Saturday morning conclusion to set up a mid-morning battle between the Crimson Bears and the Malemutes, which JDHS won handily 9-0.
Larson and Doerflinger combined to pitch the shutout, while the Crimson Bears scored their nine runs off Lathrop pitchers Angela Ott and Chelsea Patterson.
The Juneau-Douglas offense was highlighted by a mammoth home run from diminutive shortstop and leadoff hitter, Hannah Barril, who was also later named to the All-State Tournament Team, as were her teammates Larson and Powers.
With Larson once again on the hill for the Crimson Bears, the first half-inning of the championship game flew by, as the senior retired the side in order. Juneau then got off to a quick start in their own half of the first as Powers singled, Larson walked and right fielder Jordan Johnston singled to load the bases.
Third baseman Ilea Belcourt drove Powers home with a deep sacrifice fly for the first run of the game.
Juneau-Douglas opened the flood gates in the second inning by scoring four runs as part of a two-out rally.
Katie Laliberte walked, Barrill then singled and Powers was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Larson made Lathrop pay with a bases-clearing double all the way to the outfield fence. Larson later scored off Johnston's RBI single.
"This year we said, 'We're not going through the loser's bracket again," Johnston said. "We did it the two previous years. It was our goal to win again this year and we've worked to do our best to do it. And even though we beat Lathrop in the first game, we didn't take it for granted that we would beat them again."
Johnston had the hottest bat in the championship contest as she went 3-for-4 with an RBI double in the fourth, scoring Powers.
Catcher Nicole Bavard chipped in for a second run in the inning with an RBI single to drive in Johnston.
Juneau picked up a run in the fifth before putting the game away in the sixth.
Sammy Roguska drew a bases loaded walk to force home the 10th run of the game, forcing umpires to envoke the 10-run rule and hand the championship to Juneau.
"This is the first year the high school team has ever gone undefeated," said Juneau-Douglas coach Dave Massey. "This is a great team, and we've had some very good teams so I don't take that lightly. This is a very special group of girls and this championship is very indicative of what I've been saying all along - that there's no validity to some people's assumption that there's a better brand of softball in Anchorage than there is in Southeast."
With two complete game shutout wins, as well as a powerful bat in the lineup, Larson was the standout player on a team of outstanding athletes.
"Our lineup is strong from the first through the fourteenth hitter," said coach Massey.
Of winning the championship, Larson said, "It's kind of like a dream come true. We had a perfect season, we won the championship and we did it two years in a row."
Larson said the win against Chugiak on Friday was the key victory in the Crimson Bears' quest for a second consecutive state championship.
"It gave us all the confidence we needed," she said. "They'd beaten every other team we were going to face. So when we beat Chugiak, we knew that maybe we could beat those other teams too. We were definitely not overconfident, but we were confident."
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