The Juneau-Douglas High School baseball field was buzzing with activity during the team's final practice in town Tuesday.
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Players who weren't batting were occupied by shagging fly balls, fielding grounders or working in the bullpen. The Crimson Bears' busy demeanor typifies the type of togetherness they've shown all season. Every Juneau-Douglas player has contributed in some way to the team's first Southeast Conference title since 2004.
JDHS will take on Homer at 11 a.m. today in Fairbanks in the Alaska School Activities Association State Baseball Tournament quarterfinal round.
"Everyone's done their job," JDHS senior pitcher Andrew Hall said. "It's amazing. Top to bottom, everyone is doing something. That's why we're winning."
Juneau-Douglas secured its first state tournament berth in three years with a 5-1 win over two-time state defending champions Sitka on Friday. The Bears went on to win the region title Saturday with a 4-3 victory over the Wolves.
"After we won that game to get into state, it was almost like a bigger celebration than winning regions," Hall said. "It felt really good to make it."
The victories helped ease the unpleasant memories of near misses in 2005 and 2006.
In 2005, the Bears were in the region title hunt until the final weekend. Last season, JDHS held a 5-1 lead in the seventh inning but two errors and a walk-off home run by Sitka's E.B. Crow, a 23rd round selection of the San Francisco Giants in 2006, ended Juneau's season.
This year, however, the Bears' showed their mental strength and discipline by closing out a number of close games.
State baseball tournament
Who? Southeast Conference No. 1 JDHS vs. Southcentral Conference No. 2 Homer.
What? Alaska School Activities Association State Baseball Tournament quarterfinal game.
Where? Growden Memorial Field in Fairbanks.
When? 11 a.m. today.
What's at stake? Today's winner will play either North Pole or Dimond in the semifinal round at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
"It's a great feeling after last year," senior first baseman/relief pitcher Ryan Beason said. "It was a bad defeat. To come back this year and go up there as a No. 1 seed means a lot."
In Fairbanks, the Bears can expect the pressure to be ratcheted up a couple of notches.
The only player with any state championship experience on the team is Nano Jacobsen. The senior catcher was a freshman on the 2004 team that finished third.
"It has a different vibe completely," Jacobsen said. "I feel like I'm more grown up. I think the team is just ... more of a family."
That family atmosphere has helped the team throughout the season.
The majority of the Bears have played together since their days in the Gastineau Channel Little League.
During Tuesday's practice, the team's practice appeared loose, but remained focused. Classic rock blared from Clae Baker's pick-up truck as coach Jim Ayers walked through practicing players at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
"The people who win state are the people who maintain discipline," Ayers said. "That's the word. Teams that are disciplined play under pressure and do the right thing at the right time to the best of their ability no matter what's going on around them. ... So we got music playing, people yelling to see people keep their concentration."
On the field, JDHS boasts enough talent to make a run at a state title.
The entire roster has found ways to contribute, whether through pitching, defense, batting or base running. George Damian scored two key runs pinch-running in the regional tournament.
Pitchers Baker, Hall, Beason, Sean Bavard and Dylan Baker have all been solid this year. Joe Kohan also provided quality innings.
Offensively, Kohan has been swinging the hottest bat on the team the season's second half. Kohan hit the go-ahead home run in Saturday's title game.
"I think we're all on the same page," Kohan said. "We're all with the coaches and believe in their strategies. So I think if we stay as a team and believe we can handle adversity then we'll be fine."
Juneau played nearly all of its games against Southeast Conference competition this year so Homer and the majority of state qualifiers are unknown quantities.
The Mariners missed the state tourney last year but were the state runners-up in 2005.
Despite not knowing much about the competition, JDHS plans on just focusing through the distractions and keep doing what it has been - which has led to plenty of success thus far.
"We take one game at a time and see how it goes," Beason said. "Hopefully we'll do our best and maybe win."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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