Juneau's Gastineau Channel Little League All-Stars had a big case of nerves when they opened the State Major (age 11-12) Little League Softball Tournament on Thursday at Melvin Park.
Escaping a first-inning jam, though, helped the GCLL All-Stars shake off the nerves as they cruised to a 7-0 victory over Anchorage's Abbott-O-Rabbit Little League in the opener of their best-of-three-game series.
"It was most nerve-wracking," pitcher Sasha Frye said after throwing a five-hit shutout.
"We were excited and nervous," third baseman Nicole Fenumiai said. "We thought they'd beat us."
Frye opened the game with a pair of strikeouts, but the next three A-O-R hitters - Sylvia Bullock, Sarah Hibbert and J.Z. Zimmerly - singled to load the bases. Frye got the next hitter, Kaylie Bylsma, to ground out, and Juneau was able to escape the top of the first inning unscathed.
Then, Juneau scored four runs in the bottom half of the first on six walks and no hits to really take the pressure off themselves. Carrie Laliberte, Lourdes Andes and Frye walked to load the bases. One out later, Fenumiai and Hannah Massey walked to force in the first two runs. Trixie Abella hit a sacrifice fly to center to score Frye, and Fenumiai scored on a wild pitch while Jenna Rutecki was drawing another walk to give Juneau a 4-0 lead.
"If they give us balls, we're not going to swing," said Massey, Juneau's right fielder. "A lot of us wanted to walk."
From there, Juneau used strong pitching from Frye and solid defense to keep control of the game.
A-O-R pitcher Sylvia Bullock only allowed two Juneau hits - a third-inning single by Abella and a fourth-inning single from Darby Brown - but Bullock walked 13 batters while striking out eight.
Juneau coach Tom Rutecki said he thought Bullock had a bad case of nerves.
"You can tell she's a better athlete than that," Rutecki said. "I think she just had a bad game."
After her first-inning high-wire act, Frye settled down to allow just two more hits for the rest of the game. She also finished with eight strikeouts - dutifully posted with large "K" signs along the backstop fence by members of Juneau's Junior (age 13-14) team - but Frye only walked one batter, in the sixth inning when the game was already decided.
"In the last innings of close games I get really nervous, but I was able to loosen up in this one," Frye said. "We were all so nervous."
"We were nervous, but so were they," Juneau first baseman Lindsay Birk said. "They're not in Anchorage, where they can sleep in their own beds and have the support of their crowd."
Juneau added a run in the third as Brown and Massey walked and Abella singled to load the bases. Birk drew a two-out walk to send Brown home with the first of her two runs.
"I was very surprised," Abella said of her hit.
In the fourth inning, Juneau added another run as Brown singled with two outs, then went to third on a pair of passed balls before scoring on a wild pitch. The GCLL All-Stars closed out their scoring in the fifth inning when pinch-hitter Hailey White walked and took second on a passed ball. She went to third when Gabby White (Hailey's twin sister) drew a walk and the ball-four pitch got loose from A-O-R's catcher, then scored when Laliberte hit a chopper back to the mound.
The two teams play again at 6 p.m. tonight, and Juneau expects a tougher game. If A-O-R wins, the two teams play an if-necessary game at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The GCLL All-Stars planned to take some batting practice this morning to prepare for tonight's rematch game.
"We didn't hit much today," Laliberte said. "We can't let ourselves get overconfident."
"We know what their pitchers thrown now," Brown said. "We can't get overconfident, but we're a lot more relaxed. If we'd lost we know we'd have to win two games."
The winner of the state tourney advances to the Northwest Division tournament, which is July 23-28 at Eagle Point-White City, Ore. (near Medford).
Watching in the stands Thursday night were the Juneau and Knik (Eagle River-Chugiak) Junior teams, who open their state tournament at 6 p.m. on Saturday. That best-of-three-game series continues at 6 p.m. Sunday, with an if-necessary game at 6 p.m. on Monday. The winner of the Junior state tournament goes to Couer d'Alene, Idaho, for its Northwest Division tournament on July 26-30.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GCLL 7, A-O-R 0
Thursday's Major state tournament game from Melvin Park
ABBOTT-O-RABBIT LL 000 000 - 0 5 0
GASTINEAU CHANNEL LL 401 11x - 7 2 0
Abbott-O-Rabbit - Bullock and Bylsma. Gastineau Channel - Frye and Brown. WP - Frye. LP - Bullock. Sv - None. 2B - None. 3B - None. HR - None.