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They haven't sacrificed any chickens yet, but how the bats are doing will be one of the biggest keys to the success of Juneau's Gastineau Channel Little League Senior All-Stars when they host the Alaska State Senior Division (age 15-16) Little League Softball Tournament this weekend.
"With this team, if we start hitting we'll do well," Juneau coach Jana Heard said. "It's such a mental thing."
Juneau's GCLL Senior All-Stars host Dimond-West of Anchorage in a best-two-games-out-of-three series starting at 4 p.m. Sunday at Melvin Park. The two teams play again at 6 p.m. on Monday, with an if-necessary game set for 6 p.m. Tuesday. The winner of the tournament heads to Great Falls, Mont., for the West Division tournament on July 28 to Aug. 2.
Dimond-West enters the tournament having won the District 1-Southcentral title in Anchorage against powerhouses Abbott-O-Rabbit, Knik and Nunaka Valley. Since no other Southeast Little League program has softball, Juneau had a bye directly into the state tournament.
But that doesn't mean the GCLL All-Stars haven't played in recent tournament games. All but three of the Juneau players were on the Midnight Suns Fastpitch Softball Association U16 squad that went to tournaments in Salem, Ore., and Tacoma, Wash., earlier this month. The Midnight Suns U16 team was winless in the Salem tournament, as their bats were silent. The bats started to come alive during exhibition games in Vancouver, British Columbia, between the two tournaments, and Juneau continued hitting in the Tacoma Classic en route to a fourth-place finish.
"The trip will help us, especially since we came out of that last weekend winning some games," Heard said. "The first tournament, in Salem, we weren't hitting and we had some problems on defense. In Vancouver our bats picked up, and we won our first three games in Tacoma."
Juneau faced Dimond-West two years ago in the State Junior Division (age 13-14) Little League Tournament, and Dimond-West swept Juneau.
"We've improved a lot since two years ago," said Tally Israelson, one of just two 16-year-olds on Juneau's young roster.
Juneau will have the homefield advantage, which will be key since Melvin Park's true sandlot field had some interesting divots. Even though Juneau has hosted state tournaments before, the players are looking forward to a chance to play at home.
"Tally and I have never played here in a tournament," said Brittany Rohm, Juneau's other 16 year old.
The GCLL All-Stars will face one of the chief nemeses of the Juneau-Douglas High School team from the last two state high school tournaments. Dimond-West pitcher Raquel Ranger, who pitches for Dimond High School, has blanked Juneau twice in the last two state tournaments, winning 1-0 this year and 7-0 last year. The GCLL All-Stars has only two varsity players from the JDHS team -- Rachel Barril and Stephanie Heard -- and they remembered Ranger.
"We lost to them at state," Stephanie Heard said.
"It will be great. I think we'll be stronger," Juneau's Lindsey Forrest said.
While Juneau's Senior Division All-Stars are staying home this weekend, the Junior Division (age 13-14) and Major Division (age 11-12) all-star teams are heading north to Anchorage for their respective state tournaments.
Both Juneau teams will play Knik in best-two-games-out-of-three series starting Saturday at Abbott-O-Rabbit Fields. On Saturday and again on Sunday, the Major Division teams play at 2 p.m. with the Junior Division teams at 6 p.m. If the if-necessary games are needed on Monday, the Major Division game is at 5:30 p.m. and the Junior Division game is at 7:30 p.m., with a 6:30 p.m. start if only one series needs a third game.
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Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.