With one swing of the bat, Aaron Cohen turned a tournament on its head.
Cohen - in the midst of pitching a complete game for Juneau West - hit a grand slam home run in the fourth inning Saturday to lead the fourth-ranked All-Stars to a 7-3 victory over top-ranked Juneau East in the semifinals of the Alaska District 2 Major Division (age 11-12) Little League Baseball Tournament at Miller Field.
Juneau West will play third-seeded Sitka at noon today in the championship game. Sitka upset second-seeded Ketchikan 6-5 in Saturday's other semifinal game. Juneau East and Ketchikan were eliminated by the losses.
"We all played great. Everybody was pulling for each other," said Cohen, who also had a solo home run and attributed his success at the plate to finding a missing batting glove.
"Everybody thought they (the Juneau East All-Stars) were better, but they overlooked us," Juneau West's Nick Mow said.
Juneau East appeared to beat Juneau West 10-0 in pool play earlier in the tournament, but the game was declared a double forfeit due to participation-rule violations. Because of its command in the earlier game, Juneau East hoped to save its ace - Kyle Fossman - for today's championship game.
But Juneau East had to use him in relief in the fourth inning, when starter Torey Franzen walked in his second run of the game and had the bases loaded with no outs. Trailing 3-2, Fossman struck out the first batter he faced. But Cohen drove a shot deep into a construction area beyond the right-field fence for the game-clinching runs.
"I don't think Kyle's given up a homer all year," Cohen said. "It was a letter-high fastball, and the bases just happened to be loaded when I hit it."
Franzen gave Juneau East a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning when he singled home Vinnie Isturis from second and Fossman scored from first when the rightfielder made an error on the play.
But Juneau West answered with two runs in the bottom half of the inning, including a solo homer by Cohen. Franzen lost his control for a couple of batters, and walked in a run.
"It was a hanging curve," Cohen said of his first homer, a high shot that barely cleared the fence in right. "I wasn't sure it got out. I'm lucky Ty (McMichael, Juneau East's smallest player) was out there because he's not tall enough to rob me."
Franzen settled down after the score was tied, and it stayed 2-2 until the bottom of the fourth inning, even though Cohen allowed Juneau East baserunners to reach third base in each of the first five innings.
Kurtis Pederson and Eric Verrelli both singled to open the bottom of the fourth for Juneau West. Then Franzen walked James San Miguel and Dominic Holloway to score Pederson and break the tie.
"We came in knowing they were a great team. But we're the underdog team," Holloway said. "My coach kept telling me to take until he (Franzen) threw a strike."
Fossman replaced Franzen after Holloway's bases-loaded walk, and he struck out Logan Miller. But he grooved one to Cohen and the ball went for a long ride. Fossman then struck out four of the next five hitters he faced over the last two innings.
"It's pretty disappointing," Fossman said. "I was supposed to throw it high and inside, and it went over the plate."
"The bases were loaded, but things happen like that," said Juneau East's Julian Love, who doubled and was stranded at third in the third inning. "You lose some games, you win some games. That's life."
Fossman doubled to lead off the top of the fifth inning, took third on a grounder to first and scored on a throwing error to make it 7-3. But Cohen got the next five hitters out to end the game.
Sitka 6, Ketchikan 5
After Ketchikan rallied from a four-run deficit to tie the game, Sitka's D.J. Hatmaker doubled to drive in the game-winning run in the top of the sixth inning as Sitka won Saturday's other semifinal.
Michael Matz singled and scored on an error to give Sitka a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, but Ketchikan's David Klein answered with a two-out solo homer to tie the game.
Anthony Perkins walked and scored on an error in the third to give Sitka a 2-1 lead. David Reynolds singled and scored on a grounder by Matz in the fourth inning to make it 3-1. Michael Svenson singled and Hatmaker doubled with one out in the fifth, then both scored on a fielder's choice by Marshall Bovee for a 5-1 lead.
In the bottom of the fifth, Ketchikan tied the score as Klein hit a two-run triple and Colby Slanaker homered. But Sitka answered in the sixth when Perkins was hit by a pitch, pinch-runner Derek Jones took second on a wild pitch and scored on Hatmaker's second double of the game.
Petersburg 5, Wrangell 3
Chris Haerling doubled home Jacob Sturgeon, who'd doubled earlier in the sixth inning, to lead Petersburg over Wrangell on the last day of round-robin pool play.
In a four-run fourth inning, Haerling reached on an error that scored two runs while Sturgeon and Jacob Madsen both hit RBI singles for Petersburg.
Wrangell scored one run in the third inning when Eric Crayne's double brought home Josh Hojem. Crayne also hit a solo homer in the fifth inning, and Joel Cramer singled and later scored on an error.
Sitka 10, Juneau West 4
D.J. Hatmaker and Korina Chapman both hit two-run singles to lead Sitka over Juneau West in the game that decided the third and fourth seeds for Saturday's semifinals.
David Reynolds also hit an RBI single for Sitka that scored Chapman in the fourth inning (Hatmaker's hit came in the first). Sitka batted around for five runs in the second inning on just four hits, singles by Ryne Sorenson, Luke Clayton, Michael Matz and Derek Jones.
Juneau West scored twice in the fourth inning as Jamie Daniel singled and Kurtis Pederson walked and both came around to score. In the fifth inning, Aaron Cohen singled home Jamie Daniel. In the sixth inning, Jake Monagle was hit by a pitch and scored on a sacrifice by Garret Cheeseman.
Juneau East 8, Ketchikan 5, seven innings
After falling behind 4-0 in the third inning, Juneau East rallied to knock off Ketchikan in a seven-inning game that decided the top two seeds for Saturday's semifinals.
Kyle Fossman hit a two-run double and Julian Love added an RBI triple in the seventh inning for the winning runs. Both players had three RBIs for the game, while Dylan Baker and Vinnie Isturis scored twice each.
Ketchikan scored four runs in the third inning on three errors and a two-run double by Bryce Moody. After Juneau East tied the score 4-4 in the top of the fifth, Ketchikan took a 5-4 lead when David Klein singled and came around to score. Juneau East's Tony Tompkins singled and came around to score in the sixth to tie the game and force an extra inning.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
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