Juneau's Gastineau Channel Little League Senior All-Stars survived a few anxious moments in the early part of Saturday's elimination game, then settled down to claim a 6-1 victory over Fairbanks in the Alaska State Senior Division (age 15-16) Little League Baseball Tournament at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
Juneau's victory Saturday eliminated Fairbanks from the tournament and gave Juneau a berth in tonight's 6 p.m. championship game against Valdez. Valdez knocked Juneau to the losers' bracket with an 8-2 victory on Friday, and Juneau has to beat Valdez tonight and again on Monday to claim the state title. A Valdez victory either night sends Valdez to next week's West Division Tournament in Vancouver, Wash.
In Saturday's game, Juneau pitcher Mark Harmon threw a one-hitter with six strikeouts, but his seven walks were enough to give his coaches a few ulcers. Five of those walks came in the first two innings, with a sixth walk in the third inning and just one after that. Harmon faced just one batter over the minimum after the third inning, but one reason for that was catcher Mike Foster made three throws to nail Fairbanks baserunners trying to steal second. The only Fairbanks hit was a bloop single by Zach Zellmer in the fourth inning, and Zellmer was promptly caught trying to steal second.
"I wasn't even warm until about the fourth inning," Harmon said, adding that Foster's throws helped settle him down. "That makes a huge difference not having runners on base, because it really distracts you."
"Once he got in that groove, he settled down," Juneau shortstop Jordan Davis said of Harmon's pitching. "Mike's throwing really helped him out."
Harmon walked the bases loaded with no outs in the first inning, then escaped the jam when one runner was out at home on a fielder's choice and the next batter hit into a double play. In the second inning, Zellmer drew a walk but was caught stealing for the first out. A strikeout later, Ryan Holz walked, then took third when Harmon's pick-off throw went to the fence behind first. Holz scored on a wild pitch for the only Fairbanks run.
Juneau tied the game in the third inning when Harmon walked, stole second and scored on a single by C.J. Keys, the first hit allowed by Fairbanks pitcher Jared McClain.
Juneau took a 3-1 lead in the fifth inning on some baserunning out of a Keystone Kops movie. With one out, Harmon singled, then went to second on a single by Keys. Davis then hit a single that landed right in front of the Fairbanks centerfielder, but Harmon got halfway to third before turning back to second base thinking the ball had been caught. Harmon and Keys both slid into second from opposite directions, tangling their feet, and the throw hit Keys and bounced away. Harmon quickly got up and scrambled to third, then went home on an overthrow as Keys stayed at second and Davis remained at first. Foster then hit a sacrifice fly to left to score Keys, and Davis was erased in a rundown for an inning-ending double play.
"Coach (Bill McCauley) said to go back, and when I looked the centerfielder had the ball in his glove so I thought he caught it," Harmon said. "I relearned how to hit in this game. I was keeping my my shoulder up, and I needed to bring it down."
Juneau added two more runs in the sixth as Erik Scholl singled, was erased on a fielder's choice by Sergio Magallanes, who took second on an errant pick-off throw. One out later, Aric Larson doubled Magallanes home, then Larson scored on a single by Eric Neal. Juneau added another run in the seventh as Davis hit a one-out single, took third on a two-base passed ball, then scored on a single by Foster.
"I just tried to calm down," Larson said. "My problem is I've been really tense when I step to the plate."
In Friday night's game, Juneau's errors were as much a problem as Valdez's hitting.
Valdez took a 2-0 lead in the second inning as Henry Cook singled and went to third on a pair of ground outs, then scored on an single by Dylan Warkenthien, who took second on a wild pitch then scored on a single by Matt Goudreau.
In the third, Valdez scored three runs on two hits and four Juneau errors to make it 5-0. Keith Hankins made it 6-0 in the fourth when he doubled, stole third and scored on a wild pitch.
Juneau finally scored two runs in the sixth when Foster doubled and scored on a triple by Magallanes, who then scored on a ground out.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
JUNEAU-GCLL 6, FAIRBANKS 1
Saturday's game from Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park
JUNEAU-GCLL 001 022 1 -- 6 10 2
FAIRBANKS 010 000 0 -- 1 1 4
Harmon and Foster; McClain and Gillette. WP -- Harmon. LP -- McClain. Sv -- None. 2B -- Juneau: Larson; Fairbanks: None. 3B -- None. HR -- None.
VALDEZ 8, JUNEAU-GCLL 2
Friday's game from Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park
VALDEZ 023 100 2 -- 8 10 3
JUNEAU-GCLL 000 002 0 -- 2 7 6
Ayotte and Craig; Greely and Foster. WP -- Ayotte. LP -- Greely. Sv -- None. 2B -- Valdez: Hankins 2, Ayotte; Juneau: Foster 2. 3B -- Valdez: Cook; Juneau: Magallanes. HR -- None.