FAIRBANKS - Though he'd been out three weeks with a thumb injury, Juneau-Douglas High School pitcher Andrew Hall proved to be in perfect postseason form Thursday.
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The senior threw six strong innings in the Crimson Bears' 5-2 opening-round win over Homer High School in the Alaska School Activities Association State Baseball Championships at Growden Memorial Field.
"That was a good game for me. It'd be a good game for anyone," said Hall, who tallied 13 strikeouts, allowed just three hits and helped his own cause with a trio of base hits.
"And we're used to this," Hall said of the rain that fell throughout most of the day.
Rain delayed the start of the quarterfinal game, the first game of the tournament, by 30 minutes. Showers in the middle of the third inning forced another half-hour delay.
The Crimson Bears racked up all five of their runs in the fifth inning. JDHS caught up to Homer pitcher Johnny Watry's big, breaking curve ball for six straight hits in a two-out rally, spearheaded by a sharp single up the middle from shortstop Joe Kohan.
"Joey, he's been crushing the ball lately," Hall said. "He's been our sparkplug."
State baseball tournament
Who? Southeast ConferenceNo. 1 JDHS vs. Mid-Alaska Conference No. 1 North Pole.
What? Alaska School Activities Association State Baseball Tournament semifinal game.
Where? Growden Memorial Field in Fairbanks.
When? 4:30 p.m. today.
What's at stake? JDHS can advance to its first title game since 2003 with a win today. Sitka and either South Anchorage or Lathrop will play in the other semifinal.
After Kohan singled and stole second, second baseman Shawn Ibesate singled in the junior.
Ibesate then stole second and took third on a throwing error by Homer catcher Tad Martin. JDHS catcher Nano Jacobsen ripped another single up the middle to drive in Ibesate. First baseman Ryan Beason then drove in the game-winning run with a double to left centerfield to score Jacobsen. Right fielder Aaron Cohen then hit a single up the middle off of Watry's foot, scoring Beason. Cohen later scored the inning's fifth run off a Watry wild pitch.
Homer put the first run of the game on the board with two outs in the third inning, after Hall walked second baseman Josh Gilbert, and then gave up back-to-back singles to Watry and shortstop Adam Trieweiler.
A double steal left Hall with runners on second and third, but he got out of the jam with a strikeout of third baseman Michael Fielding.
With runners at second and third in the bottom of the seventh, Kohan took the mound to relieve Hall, who'd walked leadoff pinch hitter Matt Fogg and then surrendered a single to leftfielder Connor McCarthy.
Homer managed just one run as Kohan induced three infield outs for the save.
"Joe Kohan came in and just closed it right out," JDHS head coach Jim Ayers said.
Nervousness was the explanation Ayers gave for the Crimson Bears tentative play through the first four innings.
"We had the butterflies," Ayers said. "But our guys came out and realized what was happening."
The realization was they needed to figure out a way to hit Watry's curve ball to score some runs, but by the fifth inning they'd finally solved that puzzling pitch.
"Watry did a good job," said Ayers. "He was throwing almost all curves. Some of our guys never saw a fastball all day."
Ibesate, who helped key the fifth-inning rally and went 3-for-3, was named the player of the game for JDHS.
"When they scored that first run the team was kind of down," said Ibesate. "I was just trying to pick the team up."
Pinch hitter Jamie Daniel singled for JDHS in the seventh inning.
Juneau-Douglas will play North Pole at 4:30 p.m. today in the semifinals.
Crimson Bears senior Clae Baker is expected to start today's semifinal.
Two-time defending champions Sitka beat Kodiak 15-3 in a quarterfinal contest.
The Wolves' Matt Callahan was 3-for-4 with five RBIs in the win.