FAIRBANKS - The Juneau-Douglas High School softball team took a long journey through the losers' bracket to reach the championship game of the state softball tournament Friday at Hez Ray Fields.
But the Crimson Bears were too tired to complete the trip to a repeat state title, as they fell 7-1 to the undefeated Chugiak Mustangs.
It was Chugiak's second state crown in the eight-year history of the state tournament, as the Mustangs (26-0 overall) matched the Crimson Bears with two state titles. The only other team to win a state championship is Service, which has four crowns.
Juneau dropped to the losers' bracket after dropping its opening game of the tournament, 7-6 in eight innings to the Dimond Lynx on Thursday morning. That meant the Crimson Bears (25-4 overall) had to play two losers' bracket games on Thursday afternoon - a 19-2 victory over Kodiak and a 5-0 victory over Bartlett - then three more games early Friday morning just to reach the title game.
Juneau beat Service 1-0 to open play on Friday, then the Crimson Bears got their revenge on Dimond with a 4-3 victory and they blanked Lathrop 4-0 to reach the title game. For Juneau to win the crown, though, the Crimson Bears would have had to beat Chugiak twice because of the tournament's double-elimination format.
"They were great," Juneau coach Dave Massey said of the way his team battled back through the losers' bracket. "I'd have liked to have played them (the Mustangs) fresh. For Ashley (Larson, a sophomore pitcher-first baseman), this is her fourth game today. They're a good team, but I think we can play with them when we're fresh."
"It hurts," Larson said of her arm after pitching at least two innings in six of Juneau's seven games with four complete games. "They (the Mustangs) only played four games the whole tournament. We played four today. We were as pumped up as we could be, but it was hard."
Fatigue was a factor for sophomore catcher Nicole Bavard, who caught every inning of Juneau's seven games this weekend.
"I'm kind of tired," Bavard said. "My knees feel like Jell-O."
Juneau took home a trophy, but it was for second place and not the championship. The team academic award went to West Valley, while Monroe Catholic won the sportsmanship award.
The Crimson Bears landed three players on the all-tournament team - senior first baseman-left fielder Danielle Larson, Ashley Larson and freshman middle infielder-pitcher Hannah Barril - while Sitka senior shortstop Sidney Wyman joined them. Sophomore third baseman Ilea Belcourt and Bavard made the good sport team for Juneau, while Sitka was represented by seniors Kelly Revard and Cara Palmer.
Juneau stayed close through the early part of the championship game, as the score was 3-1 after five innings. But fatigue took over in the top of the sixth inning as Chugiak scored four unearned runs on a couple of errors, and Juneau couldn't score despite having runners on base in the game's final three innings.
"We're pretty disappointed we didn't score more," Massey said. "Chugiak's a good team and you can say their 10 seniors beat our one, but I think in a 10-game series we'd win more than one game if we were both fresh."
The Mustangs took a 2-0 lead in the first inning as Courtney Waters tripled and scored on a grounder to third by Stephanie Massey, and then catcher Kristina Clark hit a bloop single with two outs and scored on a triple by Sarah Neuschwander.
Juneau scored an unearned run in the bottom of the second inning - the only run Chugiak allowed in its four games of the tourney. Senior left fielder-first baseman Danielle Larson was hit by a pitch, took second on a grounder to third, took third on a grounder to short and scored when Clark's snap throw to third went into left field for an error.
In the fifth, Chugiak made it 3-1 as Kasey Callison singled to left center field, took second on a sacrifice bunt, went to third on a grounder to short and scored on a bloop single by Stephanie Massey. But in the sixth inning, Chugiak put the game out of reach as Krysta Wojnowski drove in two runs with a double, then scored on an error. An out later, Waters drove in the game's final run on an infield single to score Caroline Schultz.
Juneau had one final threat when the Crimson Bears loaded the bases with one out in the sixth as Hannah Barril beat out an infield single, then Ashley Larson and Danielle Larson both walked. The threat ended, though, when Ilea Belcourt lined out to second base and Rachel Barril grounded out to third. In the seventh inning, Bavard walked, but was stranded on the basepaths. Bavard also hit a ground-rule double in the fifth inning, but couldn't score.
"We'd love to play them fresh," freshman center fielder Alycia Cox said. "Hell, yeah, that'll be us (winning the title) next year. It'll be us, I'm sure of it."
Just to reach the title game, Juneau had to get an early start with a game against Service at 8 a.m. Cox said that meant the team left its hotel at 6 a.m. The game was delayed a half-hour while the ground crew tried to clear water from the field after heavy overnight rains.
The Crimson Bears took advantage of their only hit of the game - a sixth-inning double by Danielle Larson - to score the game's only run. Meanwhile, Ashley Larson was able to get out of jams that saw Service put runners on third base in four of the game's seven innings without scoring.
To make things even more tense for Juneau, junior courtesy runner Dana Flansaas - who replaced Ashley Larson at first when Larson reached on an error - scored the game's only run while the Crimson Bears were panicking in the dugout because sophomore shortstop Jordan Johnston was suffering from a serious asthma attack. Johnston, who had just been tagged out by Service pitcher Heather Lyons after a lengthy rundown between second and third, eventually was able to regain her breath, but a couple of players were yelling for coaches to call 9-1-1 as Flansaas was getting back to the dugout.
The umpires halted the game for about 15 minutes while medics worked on Johnston, then restarted the game once Johnston caught her breath. Johnston was replaced for the rest of the game, with Flansaas moving into left field and taking her spot in the batting order. Johnston returned to play Juneau's remaining three games, but Flansaas saved the game when she made a diving catch for the game's last out as Service had runners on first and second.
"I booked around the bases, then came into the dugout and saw Jordan," said Flansaas, who stayed on the ground for a minute or two after her game-ending catch while shortstop Hannah Barril ran and jumped on top of her. "I think it helped that we'd scored a run and that was relieving some tension. I thought it (the drive by Service pitcher Heather Lyons) was farther in, but I knew I had it in my glove."
"We got lucky," Danielle Larson said. "We had our confidence back and I'm sure I hit an outside fastball. It was definitely shocking to look back in the dugout and see Jordan. But I think she was just excited from the rundown and that we'd scored."
Juneau then beat Dimond in a rematch of its tourney opener, as Hannah Barril and Ashley Larson shared pitching duties.
The Crimson Bears jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning as Johnston led of the game with a ground-rule double, Barril walked, the runners advanced on a passed ball and Larson drove both runs home with a ground-rule double. Juneau made it 3-0 in the second as Melissa White reached first on a fielder's choice with two outs, went to third on a pair of errors and scored on a wild pitch as the Crimson Bears loaded the bases.
But Dimond tied it up with two runs in the bottom of the second inning - helped by three Juneau errors - and then Lillian Bullock led off the third with a ground-rule double and scored on a sacrifice fly by Whitney Strid.
Juneau won it in the top of the fourth, even though White was thrown out at home early in the rally. Johnston reached on an error, stole second and scored on a single by Ashley Larson. Dimond threatened in the bottom of the fifth inning, as shortstop Gladys Robards singled and took second on a sacrifice bunt, only to have Juneau escape and the game end after five innings because of the 90-minute time limit.
The Crimson Bears then blanked Lathrop as Hannah Barril and Ashley Larson both made two separate appearances on the mound to combine for a four-hitter.
Juneau scored a run in the first inning as Johnston singled and took second on an error, then scored on a double by Barril. The Crimson Bears added two more runs in the second inning as Rachel Barril was hit by a pitch and scored on a single by Cox, who later scored on a single by Johnston. In the sixth inning, Rachel Barril reached on an error and scored on a single by Cox.
Even though the Crimson Bears didn't win the title, the Juneau players and coaches feel good about their chances next year. Danielle Larson is the team's only senior, while Flansaas and Rachel Barril are the only juniors. The other nine players on the varsity roster were freshmen and sophomores.
"We have a good program, that's why we've been in the championship game in five out of the eight years there's been a state tournament," Dave Massey said. "We'll be good for the next few years."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
STATE SOFTBALL TOURNAMENT
The scores and awards from the 2003 state softball tournament held Thursday and Friday at Hez Ray Fields in Fairbanks.
Game 1 - Homer 4, Bartlett 2.
Game 2 - West Valley 7, Kodiak 0.
Game 3 - Sitka 5, Monroe Catholic 4, eight innings.
Game 4 - Dimond 10, Colony 1.
Game 5 - Chugiak 15, Homer 0, four innings, 15-run rule.
Game 6 - Service 6, West Valley 5.
Game 7 - Lathrop 6, Sitka 4, six innings, time limit.
Game 8 - Dimond 7, Juneau-Douglas 6, eight innings.
Losers' bracket first-round scores
Game 9 - Monroe Catholic 7, Homer 3.
Game 10 - Colony 11, West Valley 1, five innings, 10-run rule.
Game 11 - Bartlett 7, Sitka 4, six innings, time limit.
Game 12 - Juneau-Douglas 19, Kodiak 2, three innings, 15-run rule.
Winners' bracket semifinal scores
Game 13 - Chugiak 3, Service 0.
Game 14 - Lathrop 5, Dimond 3.
Losers' bracket second-round scores
Game 15 - Monroe Catholic 6, Colony 5.
Game 16 - Juneau-Douglas 5, Bartlett 0.
Losers' bracket third-round scores
Game 17 - Dimond 11, Monroe Catholic 10, eight innings.
Game 18 - Juneau-Douglas 1, Service 0.
Winners' bracket final score
Game 19 - Chugiak 1, Lathrop 0.
Losers' bracket semifinal score
Game 20 - Juneau-Douglas 4, Dimond 3, five innings, time limit.
Losers' bracket final score
Game 21 - Juneau-Douglas 4, Lathrop 0.
Championship game score
Game 22 - Chugiak 7, Juneau-Douglas 1.
Team sportsmanship award - Monroe Catholic School Rams.
Team academic award - West Valley Wolfpack.
All-tournament team - Nicole Ward, Chugiak; Lillian Bullock, Dimond; Ashley Larson, Juneau-Douglas; Angela Ott, Lathrop; Heather Lyons, Service; Leah Stepovich, Monroe Catholic School; Sidney Wyman, Sitka; Ashley Holder, West Valley; Courtney Waters, Chugiak; Raquel Ranger, Dimond; Danielle Larson, Juneau-Douglas; Michelle Taylor, Lathrop; Abby Higbie, Service; Kristina Winfree, Monroe Catholic School; Hannah Barril, Juneau-Douglas; Kerry Kucko, Chugiak; Krysta Wojnowski, Chugiak; Sarah Neuschwander, Chugiak.
Good sport team members from Southeast - Ilea Belcourt, Juneau-Douglas; Nicole Bavard, Juneau-Douglas; Kelly Revard, Sitka; Cara Palmer, Sitka.
2003 - Chugiak Mustangs.
2002 - Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears.
2001 - Service Cougars.
2000 - Service Cougars.
1999 - Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears.
1998 - Chugiak Mustangs.
1997 - Service Cougars.
1996 - Service Cougars.
MUSTANGS 7, CRIMSON BEARS 1
Friday's championship game from Hez Ray Fields
CHUGIAK 200 014 0 - 7 11 1
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 010 000 0 - 1 4 3
Chugiak - Kucko and Clark. Juneau-Douglas - A. Larson and Bavard. WP - Kucko. LP - A. Larson. Sv - None. 2B - Chugiak 2 (Ward 1, Wojnowski 1), Juneau-Douglas 1 (Bavard 1). 3B - Chugiak 2 (Waters 1, Neuschwander 1), Juneau-Douglas 0. HR - None.
CRIMSON BEARS 4, MALEMUTES 0
Friday's losers' bracket final from Hez Ray Fields
LATHROP 000 000 0 - 0 4 4
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 120 001 x - 4 6 2
Lathrop - Ott, Patterson (1), Ott (4) and Winburn. Juneau-Douglas - H. Barril, A. Larson (2), H. Barril (4), A. Larson (6) and Bavard. WP - H. Barril. LP - Ott. Sv - A. Larson. 2B - Lathrop 0, Juneau-Douglas 1 (H. Barril 1). 3B - None. HR - None.
CRIMSON BEARS 4, LYNX 3
Friday's losers' bracket semifinal from Hez Ray Fields
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 210 10 - 4 5 3
DIMOND 021 00 - 3 3 4
(Game called after five innings, time limit)
Juneau-Douglas - H. Barril, A. Larson (4) and Bavard. Dimond - Jones, Ranger (1) and Parrish. WP - H. Barril. LP - Ranger. Sv - A. Larson. 2B - Juneau-Douglas 2 (Johnston 1, A. Larson 1), Dimond 1 (Bullock 1). 3B - None. HR - None.
CRIMSON BEARS 1, COUGARS 0
Friday's losers' bracket third-round game from Hez Ray Fields
SERVICE 000 000 0 - 0 5 2
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 000 001 x - 1 1 2
Service - Lyons and Sterling. Juneau-Douglas - A. Larson and Bavard. WP - A. Larson. LP - Lyons. Sv - None. 2B - Service 1 (Lyons 1), Juneau-Douglas 1 (D. Larson 1). 3B - None. HR - None.