Bears bomb East for crown

Posted: Sunday, June 06, 2010

Editor's note: Check Monday's sports section for further state coverage.

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Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News

That's two in 2010 for the girls from Juneau-Douglas.

Crimson Bears softball matched the basketball team's state title, shelling defending champion East Anchorage 11-0 in five innings at Cartee Fields in Anchorage, earning the program's third large schools crown in four years.

Manager Dave Massey said the team was "on a real sugar high" as the post-game celebration commenced.

"It's always fun to win. The girls are really excited," he said. "There were two girls (Brittany Fenumiai and Taylor Larson) that played on the state champion basketball team, so they now have won two ... in the same year. And we have several girls that have played on all three of our state teams in the last four years. They've helped set the standard.

"We have three freshman girls who are on this trip. They've gotten a taste of what it's like and they want to come back and win some more," he continued. "We have a good chance with a lot of juniors on this team. We have a good program with good coaches back home who put a lot of time and effort into these kids, and it makes it a lot of fun to work with them when they get to high school."

It was the program's seventh title in the tournament's 15 years, and everybody got in on the action.

The Bears brought their big sticks, blasting four home runs, and junior Jennifer Nelson was stellar in the circle, giving up just four hits and no walks while striking out five to pick up the shutout.

Nelson said she felt no extra pressure getting the nod as the starter in the biggest game of the year.

"It wasn't really a different mindset. My right side was really sore from pitching yesterday, but it didn't stop me at all. I pitched like it was just another game, but it was probably the best game I've ever pitched. My spins were great; just perfect.

"At the end, I was really happy. But eventually I cried because this was the year to win it," she continued. "Our seniors and juniors are really, really, really close. I don't know what we're going to do without them next year, and this was the team that I really wanted to win with."

Fenumiai and Larson, the Bears' Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, each went yard, which is no surprise. Fenumiai had five coming into the tournament and added two more against South Anchorage, and Larson had four coming in, adding another against West Valley.

Getting into the act for the first time was freshman Malin Murray, who went 2-for-3 with a walk, three RBIs and one run scored. Murray's home run came in the third inning with two on, and even had another potential homer pulled back into the park by an outfielder's glove over the fence.

The most special long ball, perhaps, resulted in the game's final run. Fenumiai and Larson have hit plenty before, and Murray will have three more years to add to her total.

Senior Krista Barril, in her final prep at bat, down to her last strike, hit her first career home run, a solo shot to right-center.

"It was the loudest screaming I heard all day," Massey quipped.

"(Assistant coach) Glen (Alt) was just telling me, 'This has to be your pitch,'" Barril recounted. "So I swung because there were two strikes and I had to protect the plate, and I thought it was going to be caught by the outfielder at the fence. But I saw one of the parents catching it so I just thought, 'Oh, yay!' It was my first one, and it was a good way to end it.

"I've been through a lot these last four years, and I'm usually just there for defense," she continued. "This year, I actually got to hit more and it clicked this weekend. That was one of my goals, and I was able to do that."

Larson said the team relished in sending its seniors out in style.

"For Brittany, since we won in basketball, it's two in one year and it's a great way to go out," she said. "Krista, I know she really wanted to win and she hit a home run, which was really exciting. It makes me really happy to send them off with a win as a good good-bye."

After defeating South Anchorage 10-2 and rallying to top West Valley 11-6 on Friday, the Bears' won their early Saturday game 6-1 over Chugiak, putting them one win away.

But it wasn't all downhill.

In the 1 p.m. game, East Anchorage rallied with four runs in the top of the seventh to beat the Bears 11-7, giving JDHS just its second loss of the season and its first in the double-elimination tournament.

Massey simply said the team "just played better" in the final game.

"Both days, after winning the first game of the day in the morning, we came back after lunch and got off to a slow start," he said. "Today, we got off to a better start but then we kind of thought the game was over and forgot that East was the defending state champion. They kept hitting balls up in the strike zone and did a really good job of coming back.

"And I made a coaching error in not getting any additional pitching warmed up so before we knew it, they caught us and went ahead."

On top of not playing their best game against East the first time, the Bears nearly lost their starting catcher, Kaci Hansen, to an ankle injury in Saturday's first game.

"There was a play at home and as I went to tag (the runner), she took out my leg and really did something weird to my ankle. I took a couple of pitches and it hurt," she said. "But it was the championship game so I wasn't going to sit it out. I had to grin and bear it, and we hoped to take it in just one game but we lost. I got it taped up and (the coaches) kind of didn't want me playing, but there was no way I was sitting. I'll get some X-rays when I get back to Juneau and, hopefully, it won't be broken."

Larson said the team's belief in itself never wavered, even after blowing a late-game lead.

"We had a confident outlook and we played really well as a team," she said. "We picked each other up when someone was down about a mistake, and it was just a really good tournament. We realized that we lost, but we knew we had another chance.

"We tried to stay really positive the whole time," she continued. "We were cheering and upbeat, and really into the game. We leaned on each other and pulled it through."

Fenumiai said she couldn't have asked for anything more to end her stellar prep career, which was full of ups and downs, injuries, awards and achievements.

"With these girls I've played with for so long, it means everything. It's the cherry on top of my senior year," she said. "We just wanted to prove to everybody that we are the best and we responded. We wanted to go out with a bang and do what we came here to do."

Mission accomplished.

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