Defense cost Juneau's Gastineau Channel Little League All-Stars a game on Friday, so Saturday the All-Stars went back to basics.
Nearly flawless defense - combined with strong pitching and a homer from Sasha Frye - helped the GCLL All-Stars claim a 4-1 victory over Abbott-O-Rabbit of Anchorage in the third game of the state Major Division (age 11-12) Little League softball tournament at Melvin Park. Juneau only made one error Saturday, an inconsequential bobble in the sixth inning.
"It was our defense," Frye said. "Our defense came together. Losing that game got us more into today's game."
Frye threw a five-hit, one-walk shutout as Juneau won Thursday's opener 7-0. But the GCLL All-Stars didn't back up pitcher Carrie Laliberte on Friday as they fell, 6-2, with five A-O-R runs the direct result of four Juneau errors.
With the victory, Juneau heads to Eagle Point-White City, Ore., near Medford, for the Northwest Division tournament. Juneau has a first-round bye and opens the tournament on Tuesday against the winner of Monday's Montana-Washington game. The other three state-champion teams in the tournament are from Oregon, Idaho and Hawaii.
"In that first game we were more dependent on her (Frye's) pitching," Juneau right fielder Hannah Massey said. "This game it was more our team defense."
In Saturday's clincher, both Frye and A-O-R pitcher Sylvia Bullock had runners reach third base in the first inning and both pitchers were able to escape the jams. Both teams had runners reach second base in the second inning, but again the game stayed scoreless.
In the top of the third inning, Massey drew a one-out walk and Frye followed with a two-run, inside-the-park home run as she lifted the ball over the first baseman's head and it rolled all the way to the fence. Frye was running so fast around the bases she nearly passed Massey, who is one of the team's faster runners, as they neared third base.
"I was thinking, 'All right, we might win,'" Massey said. "She told me I better keep running because she was going all the way home."
A-O-R left runners at second and third in the bottom of the third inning, but Juneau's defense held. Both teams also had runners reach base in the fourth inning, but the score remained 2-0.
Juneau got an insurance run in the fifth inning as catcher Darby Brown drew a one-out walk, took second on a passed ball and scored on a single by third baseman Nicole Fenumiai. The Fenumiai single and the Frye homer were the only Juneau hits in the game, but Juneau drew 11 walks off Bullock while striking out 10 times.
"I was sort of mad we're not hitting," Fenumiai said.
What happened after Fenumiai's hit proved to be the game's biggest controversy, resulting in a 15-20 minute delay as coaches, umpires and the tournament director discussed the rules about courtesy runners.
Fenumiai was replaced by courtesy runner Lourdes Andes, who promptly took second base on a passed ball. The problem was Andes, who'd started the game in left field but been replaced in the fourth inning, wasn't eligible to be a courtesy runner. Only players who have not entered the game are allowed to be courtesy runners, the rulebook says.
The rulebook didn't list a remedy for the situation so the umpires and tournament director decided Fenumiai had to return to the basepaths, but could stay at second base since the umpires made the mistake of allowing Andes into the game and she'd advanced a base. Juneau loaded the bases with a pair of two-out walks, but A-O-R escaped more damage as Bullock struck out Juneau first baseman Lindsay Birk to end the threat.
"It was kind of nerve-wracking, because it happened when I was up to bat," said Juneau second baseman Jenna Rutecki, who fouled off two bunt attempts before striking out.
"We couldn't get discouraged, or let it worry us," Birk said.
Juneau's defense recorded the game's only 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the fifth. The GCLL All-Stars made it 4-0 in the top of the sixth inning as Massey drew a one-out walk, stole second and scored when Frye reached on A-O-R's only error of the game.
A-O-R responded in the bottom of the sixth with its only run of the game. Bullock tripled to the wall in right, then scored on a grounder to short by Sarah Hibbert. The next batter, J.Z. Zimmerly, reached first on an error at second. But Frye settled down to get Kaylie Bylsma to fly out to center field and then ended the game by striking out Kelly Dotzler.
"In the last inning, I try to think it's like the third or fourth inning to calm myself down," said Frye, who allowed six hits while walking none and striking out four batters. "I don't care what happens down there (in Oregon) as long as we won state."
Abbott-O-Rabbit 6, Juneau-GCLL 2
Errors were costly in Friday's game, especially in the top of the third inning when A-O-R took a 4-0 lead on three Juneau fielding miscues. The teams combined to turn five double plays, so they did have some defensive gems, but the errors hurt.
Kika Mandelin led off the top of the third inning for A-O-R by reaching second on an error, then advanced to third on a fly out to right by Bullock for the second out of the inning. Hibbert, who pitched for A-O-R on Friday, singled home Mandelin to make it 1-0. Zimmerly and Bylsma both reached on errors to load the bases and Dotzler followed with a three-run triple to the fence to make it 4-0.
A-O-R made it 5-0 in the top of the fourth as Reddick singled, took second on a wild pitch and third on a passed ball, then scored on a sacrifice fly to center by Hibbert.
Juneau scored a run in the bottom of the fourth as Nethia Lavering drew a two-out walk, took second on a wild pitch, stole third and scored when the ball got past the third baseman for an error.
A-O-R added its final run in the top of the fifth as Bylsma walked, took second when Dotzler reached first on an error in right, then pinch-hitter Kailin Witt walked to load the bases. Bylsma scored when pinch-hitter April Higgins grounded into a 4-3 double play.
In the bottom of the sixth, the GCLL All-Stars ran themselves out of a rally.
Trixie Abella singled and Frye walked, then they pulled off a double steal for runners at second and third. Juneau catcher Darby Brown reached on a fielder's choice, and the throw home got away from A-O-R catcher Bylsma and Abella and Frye both appeared to cross the plate. But home plate umpire Bob Simms called Abella out for not sliding (runner interference) and Frye was sent back to third base. Fenumiai walked to load the bases, then Lavering grounded back to the pitcher who threw home to get Frye at the plate.
With two outs at home, Massey drew a bases-loaded walk to finally plate Brown with Juneau's only run of the inning. The game ended when Hibbert struck out Rutecki with the bases loaded.