By CHARLES BINGHAM
THE JUNEAU EMPIRE
'Twas the night before the Alaska State Senior Division (age 15-16) Little League Tournament, and Juneau's Gastineau Channel Little League Senior All-Stars were very loose as they clowned around in practice.
The GCLL All-Stars host Valdez and Fairbanks in this weekend's tournament at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park, starting with tonight's 6 p.m. game between Juneau and Fairbanks. But during Wednesday night's practice even the players noticed how relaxed their team was.
"This has got to be the goofiest team I've ever been on," Kyle Lanz said as a screaming C.J. Keys chased Wil Ridgeway down the baseline toward first base.
"They're real loose," Juneau coach Bill McCauley said. "In my mind, they're almost too loose. But they need to be relaxed, too. These guys do focus during the game."
Juneau brings a tournament-experienced team into this weekend's event, with four players having been on the GCLL Junior All-Stars (age 13-14) team that came within one game of reaching the Junior Division Little League World Series two years ago. Many of the younger players on the team were on last year's GCLL Junior All-Stars team that won the state tournament and went on to the Pacific Northwest Division Tournament.
Juneau swept two games from Ketchikan, 8-1 and 8-6, to win last weekend's District 2-Southeast Senior Division tournament. Add in the home-park advantage, especially with Juneau's true sandlot field conditions, and the GCLL All-Stars were feeling confident about their chances.
"It's kind of cool to have the homefield advantage for a change," Keys said. "It'll be fun. It's always nice when you can come home and sleep in your own bed. We're feeling good about state. We know the field, and the ball doesn't die like it does on a grass field."
"We like having the fans from home," Lanz said. "We'd play baseball in our backyards."
McCauley said he doesn't know much about the Valdez or Fairbanks teams, other than they won their respective district tournaments to get to Juneau. Fairbanks beat North Pole 4-1, Eielson 10-2 and North Pole 1-0 to win the District 3 (Interior) tourney. Valdez won the District 1 (Southcentral) tourney by beating Polar of Anchorage by 10 runs, Wasilla by 20 runs, Abbott-O-Rabbit of Anchorage 23-1, then twice beating Kenai 16-5 for the title.
"The biggest thing that can screw us is if we underestimate a team like we underestimated Ketchikan in my junior year," Lanz said. "We still beat them in the rematch, but we lost the first game. I'd never played a tournament baseball game in Juneau until last week, and this is my sixth all-star tournament."
"If we play baseball like we've been playing baseball, we'll be all right," Juneau's Sergio Magallanes said.
The tournament opens with tonight's 6 p.m. game between Juneau and Fairbanks, and the winner of tonight's game plays Valdez at 6 p.m. on Friday. Saturday's 6 p.m. game is a losers' bracket game, and Sunday's 6 p.m. game is the championship. If Sunday's game results in two teams having one loss each, an if-necessary game is at 6 p.m. on Monday.
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Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.