Crimson Bears win state championship

Posted: Sunday, June 08, 2008

FAIRBANKS - Juneau-Douglas head coach Jaime Kissner asked Joe Kohan if he wanted the ball for Saturday's championship game of the Alaska School Activities Association State High School Baseball Tournament at Growden Memorial Park.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The 6-foot right-handed senior didn't even have to think about wanting to pitch against Southeast Conference rival Sitka, the winner of the last three state finals at Growden.

Kohan joked at first in response to the Crimson Bears' first-year head coach.

"I said 'You're the coach,' but I knew he was going to put me in," Kohan said. "I just said, 'You're the coach, put the best team on the field.' Then I said, 'Hell yeah! I'll get the ball.'

"I had a lot of motivation going into the game. So I wanted to get these hitters out, definitely.''

Kohan's desire to pitch was evident in the 9-2 victory, as he registered 13 strikeouts, limited the Wolves to four hits and retired the first nine batters he faced.

Saturday's motivation for Kohan, the Alaska Gatorade Player of the Year and a University of Nevada recruit, included losing to the Wolves in last year's championship game at Growden, and seeing Sitka get to represent Southeast at the 2005 and 2006 state tournaments. Until last year, the state tournament was a four-team format with only the top teams from the four Class 4A regions in Alaska.

"We were losing to them three years - my freshman, sophomore and junior years - and definitely, I wanted to go out on a win and show them we were the best in the state," Kohan said.

It was the third state title in the program's history, as Juneau-Douglas also won in 2002 and 2003.

Juneau-Douglas won eight of nine regular season games this year against Sitka, and in those contests, Kohan was mostly used as a reliever, said Wolves head coach Ed Conway.

He went the distance on Saturday, delivering 113 pitches, mostly fastballs. His output included 23 pitches combined in the first and fifth innings, where he each struck out the side in order.

"He had everything. This is the best we've seen him all year, for sure," said Sitka head coach Ed Conway. "He stepped it up in this championship game. He really had us off balance.

"He was pulling that fastball by us ... he locates his fastball really good and mixes it up with the curve ball. He's pretty tough.''

So were the rest of the Crimson Bears, who produced 11 hits against Wolves starter Ryan Staton and reliever Traz Hill.

"We know that when our pitcher is doing such an amazing job, everybody just gets into it," said sophomore catcher Aaron Cohen, who hit 3-for-4 with two RBI. "This is just an amazing feeling; it makes everyone get into it and feel more alive. As you can see, it boosted us to a state championship.''

Dakotah Smith was a courtesy runner for Cohen and scored twice.

Center fielder Corey Mahar finished 2-for-5 with a run and designated hitter Shane Rud had one hit but drove in two runs and scored once for the 21-6 Crimson Bears.

Third baseman Amon Johnson had an RBI double in the bottom of the seventh for Sitka (12-11) after Kohan struck him out in his first two at-bats.

"I had been watching some pitches before and that's what got me into trouble,'' Johnson said. "As soon as we got later into the game, I started thinking that as soon as I see one, I've got to hit.

"... He gave me a fastball that was just on the outside of the plate and I took it opposite (field). That's all I tried to do with it; I wasn't try it pull it or anything.''

Sitka survived against two tough pitchers in its first two games of the tournament. It rallied Thursday for a 6-5 victory in 10 innings against a Chugiak Mustangs squad that featured Ty Griffith, who came into the state tournament with a 0.00 earned-run average and 4-0 record, and it took a 12-6 semifinal victory against a North Pole Patriots team that started Chris Aure, who recorded 10 strikeouts against the Wolves in 4 ⅔ innings.

Kohan, and the rest of the Crimson Bears, stifled the Wolves' momentum on Saturday, and it spoiled a bid by Sitka's seven seniors to end their high school careers with four straight state titles.

"We've had a lot of come-from-behind games this year ... and we're really happy to get this far this year,'' Johnson said. "We did want the fourth in a row. We were just trying to get here (championship game) and we were trying to stay in the game. We were trying to do our best.''

Cohen accounted for a 2-0 lead for the Crimson Bears. He led off the top of the second with a hit to the gap in left field and scored on Rud's sacrifice fly, and he drove home Shawn Ibesate with a two-out hit in the third.

Sitka designated hitter Chili Rivera cut the lead to 2-1 in a strange way in the fourth. He struck out against Kohan but Cohen let the pitch get past him. Rivera stole second, moved to third on Richard Carlos' bunt and came on Sean O'Neill's grounder.

Juneau-Douglas moved closer to the state title by pulling from Sitka over the next two innings.

Rud plated two runs with a bloop single in the fifth for a 4-1 lead. The Crimson Bears followed with five more runs in the sixth on Kohan's sacrifice fly, Cohen's RBI single, Rud's two-run single and Alex DeRocher's run-scoring hit.

• Danny Martin, reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, can be reached at dmartin@newsminer.com.



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