Ryne Sorenson still couldn't believe it as the Sitka All-Stars waited their turn to collect their medals and championship banner after winning the Southeast Alaska District 2 Major Division (age 11-12) Little League Baseball Tournament on Sunday afternoon at Miller Park Field No. 1.
"This is so great," Sorenson said, following Sitka's 7-1 improbable victory over Juneau West in Sunday's championship game.
"It says champions' right here," teammate Marshall Bovee said after he received his medal, tracing his finger along the inscription on the back of the medal.
The Sitka victory came a year earlier than some people expected as the team the youngest in the tournament claimed the district's lone berth to next weekend's state tournament at Anchorage's Dimond-West Little League Fields.
"They're very young, half 11 year olds and half 12 year olds," Sitka manager Steve Clayton said. "They're scrappy. They stay with it all the way."
After posting a 4-2 record in round-robin pool play, Sitka earned the third seed in this weekend's semifinals. Sitka which beat Juneau West 10-4 in its last round-robin game jumped out to an early lead against second-seeded Ketchikan on Saturday, then rallied to win the game 6-5 in the sixth inning after Ketchikan tied the score. That victory gave Sitka the early momentum in Sunday's championship game with fourth-seeded Juneau West, which upset top-seeded Juneau East 7-3 in Saturday's other semifinal.
"It was all about the underdogs," said Sitka player David Reynolds, who added that this is just the second trip to the Majors state tournament Sitka has earned. "In the game with Ketchikan, I was really determined to win. Last year we were down to the final pitch when they won."
"That one was for the team," added Anthony Perkins, who was hit by a pitch in the sixth inning against Ketchikan to set up the game-winning run and still sported baseball stitch marks on his wrist a day later. "And Michael Matz (who relieved Reynolds) saved us."
In Sunday's game, Sitka started D.J. Hatmaker, who had the game-winning double on Saturday. Hatmaker threw a two-hitter and struck out nine in a six-inning complete game.
After escaping a small jam in the first inning, Sitka jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the inning as Sitka chased Juneau West starter Dominic Holloway with all four runs before the first out was made. Michael Svenson hit a two-run bases-loaded single, while Kevin See and Sorenson added RBI singles later in the inning.
"I think it was just a fastball. It was a pretty good pitch," said Svenson, who added state will be his first trip to Anchorage. "Most of all it was teamwork."
"It was all teamwork," Hatmaker said. "We got the lead and that made it a lot easier for me. And it made us more confident."
Juneau West threatened to make it a close game in the top of the third inning as Holloway scored when Jamie Daniel reached on a one-out, bases-loaded error at short. The next batter, Garret Cheeseman, dropped down a sacrifice bunt that appeared to score Nick Mow with a second run. But the umpires ruled Mow left third base early (before the pitch crossed home plate) and sent him back to third. Hatmaker struck out the next hitter to end the threat.
"Our bats weren't really working," Daniel said.
"When he left too soon, that hurt," Holloway said. "It would have been a lot better if we hadn't had so many errors."
In the bottom of the third, Sitka added three more runs, giving the team seven runs by seven different players. David Erickson started the rally with a single, then scored when Derek Jones reached third on an error following his sacrifice bunt. Jones scored when Reynolds reached on an error, and Reynolds scored on a single by Matz.
Hatmaker then shut down Juneau West, giving up just a fifth-inning double to Aaron Cohen and two hit batters in the sixth.
"We were glad to save this guy (for the championship game). He's a pretty good pitcher," Reynolds said of Hatmaker.
As for Juneau West, its players seemed more pleased with the victory over Juneau East on Saturday than the second-place finish.
"Our big game was beating Juneau East," Holloway said.
"That was the one we wanted to win," Daniel added. "But overall, we did pretty good."
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