When Juneau pitcher Kyle Lanz severely sprained his right ankle the day before the start of the Alaska State Senior Division (age 15-16) Little League Baseball Tournament, the Gastineau Channel Little League All-Stars thought the injury would have a negative impact on their run for the state title.
Lanz's injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Juneau had to make some adjustments in his absence, and then Lanz got healthy and returned to action with a stronger team behind him.
Lanz threw a two-hitter and struck out 13 batters as the GCLL All-Stars blanked Valdez 7-0 in his first mound appearance of the tournament Tuesday afternoon at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park, leading Juneau to the state championship with the victory in the double-elimination tourney's if-necessary game. The GCLL All-Stars caught a flight this morning to Vancouver, Wash., where they will play the Idaho state champion at 5 p.m. (Alaska time) Friday in the first round of the Pacific Northwest Divisional Tournament.
"I didn't know that," Lanz said when told he had 13 strikeouts and a two-hitter. "The ankle, I didn't feel it the whole game."
Lanz said he had more problems with his pitching arm than with his ankle, but those problems were more because of the extra clothes he wore during Tuesday's heavy rain that left the field looking like a quagmire. Lanz struggled with his control late in the game, giving up two of his five walks in the final inning before closing out the game with a strikeout to preserve the shutout.
"I have a lot of layers on, and I have an elbow brace," Lanz said as he reached up his sleeve to remove the elastic wrap from his pitching arm. "It was tightening up because of the rain, and I couldn't get full extension on my arm in the last couple of innings."
"His curve stopped working in the middle innings, and he had to start using his fastball," Juneau catcher Mike Foster said of Lanz. "Then his curve started working again late in the game."
Juneau coach Bill McCauley said Lanz's injury, combined with Juneau's 8-2 second-round loss to Valdez, showed the GCLL All-Stars can deal with a little adversity. Juneau had to play five games in the state tournament as it fought its way through the losers' bracket, while Valdez only played three games -- all against Juneau, the 8-2 victory followed by a 2-1 decision for Juneau on Monday and Tuesday's 7-0 score.
"In hindsight, and I don't really want to say it, I'm kind of glad we had to come through the losers' bracket," McCauley said. "That gave us a chance to develop more pitchers, and we had four different pitchers win with complete games. Kyle's injury caused me to bring in a couple of pitchers I might not have if he'd been able to throw. The team had its back against the wall and a lot of adversity, with seven players going up to the American Legion team and Kyle's ankle injury, but they came through."
In the top of the third, Lanz escaped the first of his two jams when Keith Hankins hit a one-out single (the other Valdez hit was a first-inning single by Kris Craig), then stole second and third before Lanz got Matt Smith to fly out to left and Craig to hit a foul pop to the catcher. Lanz faced the minimum number of batters until the top of the seventh, when two walks and a wild pitch put Valdez runners on second and third before Lanz closed out the game with a pair of strikeouts.
Lanz and Valdez pitcher Nathan Ayotte were locked in a pitcher's duel through the first four innings, with the game's only run to that point coming in the bottom of the third inning.
Aric Larson hit a one-out single in the third for Juneau's first hit of the game, then took second base when Mark Harmon dropped down a sacrifice bunt. C.J. Keys knocked Larson home with a double to the centerfield fence.
"As soon as we got that run, we got the momentum," Lanz said.
Juneau scored twice more with two outs in the bottom of the fifth as Larson reached on a fielder's choice and took third when Jason Morrow blooped a single over first base then stole second. Keys knocked both runners home with a single to left, giving him three RBIs.
"That kind of got us pumped," Keys said. "We knew if we got the first run, we could probably hold them."
Juneau added four more runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, as Foster singled and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by pinch-hitter Matt Greely. Lanz walked, then Foster and Lanz both advanced a base when Sergio Magallanes reached on an error at first to load the bases. Foster scored on a wild pitch, then Wil Ridgeway hit a two-run double to right to score Lanz and Magallanes. Ridgeway went to third on a passed ball and scored the game's final run on a sacrifice fly to center by Larson.
"I was really happy to get that double because I haven't been hitting for the last four games," Ridgeway said. "I figured out what I was doing, and now I've got some momentum going into Vancouver."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
JUNEAU-GCLL 7, VALDEZ 0
Tuesday's game from Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park
VALDEZ 000 000 0 -- 0 2 2
JUNEAU-GCLL 001 024 x -- 7 8 0
Ayotte and Craig; Lanz and Foster. WP -- Lanz. LP -- Ayotte. Sv -- None. 2B -- Valdez: None; Juneau: Keys, Ridgeway. 3B -- None. HR -- None.