Ketchikan had its back against the wall after losing the opening game of the Alaska State Junior Division (Age 13-14) Little League Baseball Tournament, so the Ketchikan players were looking forward to their rematch with undefeated Knik in what was supposed to be the tournament's championship game Tuesday night at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
Staked to an early lead because of some Knik errors, Ketchikan rode pitcher Trevor Norton's shutout to a 6-0 victory, forcing an if-necessary game between the two teams at 6 p.m. tonight to decide the title. The winner of tonight's game heads to the Western Division tournament that opens Friday in Vancouver, Wash.
Norton allowed four hits and walked just one hitter over seven innings, striking out four. He needed to be sharp because it appeared he would be locked in a pitchers' duel with Knik starter Zack Morse, who was already deep into the count on his third hitter before he threw a ball. Morse scattered nine hits, walked one and struck out five in a complete-game losing cause, but errors made the first three Ketchikan runs unearned.
"We played a lot better this time," Norton said, referring to Knik's 3-2 victory in Saturday's tournament opener. "I was throwing a fastball and curveball."
The game was scoreless through the first two innings, as Morse kept the ball around the plate and Ketchikan's defense bailed Norton out when Knik hitters connected with a couple of his pitches. Ketchikan center fielder Chris Ashcraft made two running catches to steal hits away from Morse in the game's first three innings.
Ketchikan took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third inning as Knik made two costly errors. Ryan Simpson hit a one-out single and took second on a sacrifice bunt by Gunnar Farstad. Chris Loughman brought Simpson home with the game's first run when Loughman reached second on an error at third. Norton singled Loughman home, and Ketchikan loaded the bases, helped by another error, before Morse escaped the jam.
"We played much better," Ketchikan's John Thompson said. "Everybody got used to (Knik's) pitcher."
"Our bats were a lot better today," Loughman said. "It was way easier to hit."
Knik made its biggest threat in the bottom of the third, putting runners on second and third when Norton ended the threat with a strikeout.
Ketchikan picked up another unearned run in the fifth as Loughman singled, stole second and third, then scored when Knik catcher K.C. Morgan's throw to third went into left field.
Ketchikan added two earned runs in the sixth inning as Eric Bezenek singled with one out, stole second and scored on Thompson's triple. Thompson scored an out later on a single by Tom Carlin.
In the seventh inning, Ketchikan scored its final run as Norton singled with two outs and scored on a double off the bottom of the fence by Jason Ramsey.
Kyle Albert hit a two-out double in the bottom of the seventh for Knik, but the game ended when Patrick Sheppard grounded out to short.
"We played way better today," Ramsey said. "We worked a lot harder and those first runs helped us. They got us pumped up."
"We played harder than they did," Carlin said.
While the Knik players were down a bit because of their first loss of the tournament, Knik coach Dave Hill said he thought the team would regroup in time for tonight's rematch.
"Giving up those errors put us behind," Hill said. "And every time we hit the ball their center fielder (Ashcraft) ran it down. We hadn't been behind until we got to this tournament. But after the game the kids said what makes a champion is how they come back from adversity."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.