Jon Andrew Malacas was nervous before taking the mound to pitch for Juneau's Gastineau Channel Little League Junior All-Stars.
It had been more than a year since Malacas pitched in a game, and now he was throwing against Ketchikan in Thursday night's opening round of the Alaska District 2 (Southeast) Junior (age 13-14) Little League Tournament at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. Being nervous was understandable.
But Malacas needn't have worried.
Malacas pitched a no-hitter and helped his cause by knocking in the game's first run and scoring twice as Juneau opened the tournament with a 9-0 victory over Ketchikan, the team many of the Juneau players think is their toughest competition in the tournament.
``This is my first no-hitter. My best before was a six-hitter,'' said Malacas, who was a catcher and centerfielder during the regular season while playing up a level in Juneau's Senior (age 15-16) league. ``I haven't pitched since last year's tournament. People were saying whoever won this game would win the tournament.''
In Thursday's other first-round game, Petersburg beat Wrangell 8-3. Juneau will play Prince of Wales at 6 p.m. tonight, with Petersburg playing Sitka at 3 p.m. in winners' bracket games. Ketchikan plays Wrangell at 11 a.m. on Saturday in a losers' bracket game, and today's losers will play at 2 p.m. on Saturday. All games are at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
Malacas used a curveball and a split-finger fastball to keep Ketchikan's hitters off-balance, striking out six while trying to mix his speeds and locations.
``I was told to keep my fingers on top, to keep balanced and keep cool,'' Malacas said. ``I didn't realize I had one (a no-hitter going) until the sixth when one of my teammates told me.''
Ketchikan did have six hitters reach base -- three on walks, one on an error and Ben Voetberg was hit twice by pitches -- but only two of the runners got as far second base (both actually reached third).
``He threw fastballs to me,'' said Ketchikan's Casey Bass, who reached on fielder's choice in the first, then advanced to third on a stolen base and a wild pitch. ``We were hitting them right to their guys.''
``We got defensive on our swinging,'' Ketchikan manager Pat Brown said. ``Malacas threw strikes. Juneau looked pretty tough. They got all the bounces and we didn't execute. They put the pressure on us, and kept the pressure on us. We're looking forward to try and get back through the losers' bracket.''
Malacas said he felt nervous before taking the mound, but he was given a boost when tournament-host Juneau lost the coin-flip and was the game's visitor. Batting first, Juneau staked Malacas to a 3-0 lead when Sergio Magallanes hit a one-out double, C.J. Keys reached on an error, Malacas singled in Magallanes and Chance Millay drove in two runs with a triple.
``That gave us a big boost,'' Malacas said.
``I hit the ball pretty good,'' said Millay, who also hit a double and caught Malacas' no-hitter. ``It was huge. I knew what their pitcher (starter Jeret Erickson) was going to throw (on the double) because he shook the catcher off.''
After grabbing the early lead, Juneau kept the pressure up for the rest of the game. Erik Scholl walked and moved around the bases to score on a grounder by Magallanes in the second inning, making the score 4-0. In the third, Juneau made it 7-0 as Malacas singled and later scored on a two-out error, then Eric Neal and Brian Vinson scored on a two-run triple by Scholl. Juneau made it 9-0 in the fourth as Keys hit a one-out single then scored on a two-out double by Millay, who scored two batters later on a single by Neal.
``Most people don't like swinging on the first pitch, but I'm a first-ball hitter,'' Scholl said of his triple. ``It gave us some relief.''
For many of the Juneau players, relief came by moving up to the Junior level. Juneau's Little League program has grown so large that about five years ago it had to start forming two all-star teams - a West and an East team - in the younger age groups, like Majors (age 11-12), when it went to district tournaments.
Two years ago, most of the Juneau players faced each other when the Juneau-East team came through the losers' bracket to beat the Juneau-West team in the District 2 Majors tournament. (Juneau-East also won the state title that year, upsetting two-time state champion Abbott-O-Rabbit of Anchorage then beating Eielson of Fairbanks in the title game.) Eight of the current Juneau players, including Millay and Scholl, played for Juneau-East while six, including Malacas, played for Juneau-West.
Now, as one combined squad, Juneau's Junior All-Stars have to follow in the footsteps of last year's All-Stars. Last year's Junior All-Stars won the District 2, state and Pacific Northwest region titles before losing in the championship game of the Western Division tournament in New Mexico, one game short of reaching the Little League World Series.
``Now we're one good team,'' Scholl said. ``We're trying to follow in their footsteps.''
In Thursday's other game, Mike Nissell hit a two-run homer in the third inning and Bryce Covington added a pair of RBI triples as Petersburg beat Wrangell 8-3. Nissell and Jacob Braun both scored twice for Petersburg, while pitchers Daniel McCay and Nissell combined to strike out 10 Wrangell hitters. Colin Buness hit an RBI triple for Wrangell in the sixth inning, while Mike Howell added a double.