The Ketchikan All-Stars think they perform better when their backs are against the wall.
Ketchikan rallied back from the losers' bracket to claim the Alaska State Junior Division (Age 13-14) Little League Baseball Tournament crown, beating Knik 6-2 in Wednesday's if-necessary game to win the double-elimination tournament.
The victory was just another in a series of close calls that had Ketchikan's Chris Loughman saying the team had "battle scars" earlier in the tournament.
Ketchikan had to battle back through the losers' bracket after it lost 3-2 to Knik in Saturday's tournament opener. In Monday's losers' bracket game, Ketchikan beat North Pole 9-8 with two outs in the seventh inning of a see-saw game. Ketchikan beat Knik 6-0 in Tuesday's scheduled championship game, forcing the if-necessary contest since both teams now had one loss.
In the District 2 tournament last week in Juneau, Ketchikan had to rally from behind to claim a pair of 5-4 victories over Juneau's Gastineau Channel Little League in the best-of-three championship series. Ketchikan trailed 4-0 and was down to its last out when it rallied to force extra innings in a 10-inning victory in the series opener, then won the second game when a pitch during an intentional walk got too close to the plate and Kenny Pearson singled in the game-winning run with two outs in the seventh.
"To me the Juneau game (the first one) was the hardest," Ketchikan's Graham Seibel said. "We play our best when we're under pressure."
"I think Southeast is the toughest district," Pearson said.
In this game, Pearson, Ketchikan's starting pitcher, allowed the first four Knik hitters to reach base in the top of the first inning, only to get out of the jam with no runs scored as he picked a Knik runner off first and catcher Ryan Simpson caught another trying to steal second.
Knik put a runner on third and didn't score in the third inning and had a runner on second with no runs scored in the fifth, as Ketchikan danced its way through a couple of other minefields. It wasn't until the sixth inning, when the game was well in hand with Ketchikan leading 6-0, that Knik finally pushed a couple of runs home.
"To me it just felt like another inning," Pearson said of his first-inning jam.
"We were down," Knik coach Dave Hill said of his team after it didn't score in the first. "Everyone we hit was hard at someone's glove. We were hitting them where they are, not where they aren't. We'd been running on a real good high before this tournament. But you can't take anything away from Ketchikan, they played a good game and they're a well-coached team. We'll be back next year."
Pearson, who threw a complete-game seven-hitter, was making his first extended appearance in the tournament since being ejected from Saturday's loss to Knik. He had to sit out the victory over North Pole because of Little League rules, plus his coaches limited him to minimum playing time (one at-bat) during Tuesday's victory over Knik for their own suspension.
"I missed it," Pearson said of the suspension, where he couldn't even wear his uniform. "I felt pretty good out there. I just love to play baseball."
Ketchikan took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning when Pearson was hit by a pitch, stole second and scored on a single by Eric Bezenek. Bezenek wound up on third after John Thompson's one-out single, but Knik pitcher K.C. Morgan got out of the inning.
But Ketchikan took control of the game with four runs in the third inning.
"We have to get on base and support our pitcher," Bezenek said was the team's attitude.
Simpson singled and scored an out later on an error to make it 2-0. Loughman reached second on a double-error at short, stole third, then scored on a Pearson single to make it 3-0. After Pearson was caught stealing, Jason Ramsey singled, stole second and scored on a single by Bezenek, who came around to score on a single by Thompson.
"I think our light practices every morning really helped," Ketchikan's Tom Carlin said. "I think they (Knik) were getting tired from full practices. They were sliding and everything."
Ketchikan scored its sixth run in the fourth inning when Trevor Norton singled, stole second and scored on a single by Loughman. Ketchikan had other chances to score after that, but couldn't get anyone home, leaving runners on second and third in the fourth, on second in the fifth and the bases loaded in the sixth.
Knik finally broke through for two runs in the top of the sixth inning, as Russell Mertens walked, took third on Morgan's double and scored on a throwing error by Ketchikan reserve catcher Trevor Norton after Morgan's double. Morgan took third on the error and scored on a passed ball.
Norton, who normally plays shortstop, had to take over at catcher when one of Pearson's fastballs bent Simpson's thumb back on his glove hand.
"It'll be OK, we'll get some rest before we go south," Simpson said.
Ketchikan will travel to Vancouver, Wash., today for the Western Division tournament, and the All-Stars will be the third team from Southeast to represent Alaska in the past five years at the tournament. Earlier on Wednesday, Ketchikan's Senior Division (Age 15-16) All-Stars also claimed a state title as Ketchikan came through the losers' bracket to beat Kodiak 5-0 in the title game.
"We're the best," Ramsey said. "We worked hard and we wanted it the most."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.