The bats came alive for the Juneau Juniors, just in time for them to repeat as state champions.
Juneau's Gastineau Channel Little League All-Stars claimed an 8-2 victory over Anchorage's Nunaka Valley in Friday's second game of the best-of-three Alaska State Junior Division (age 13-14) Little League Softball Tournament at Melvin Park. Juneau also won 6-0 in Thursday's tournament opener, so Friday's victory clinched the title.
The state title means Juneau heads to Billings, Mont., to represent Alaska in the Northwest Divisional Tournament that takes place July 30 through Aug. 3. Juneau's first game is this Friday afternoon against the Oregon champion.
"Here's the pot of gold," Juneau first baseman-center fielder Trixie Abella said as she held her championship medal while looking at a rainbow that appeared over the field after the game.
"It'll be fun. I've never been to Montana before," said Carrie Laliberte, who split time pitching for Juneau with Sasha Frye.
In Thursday's opener, Juneau won with one-hit, no-walk pitching and errorless defense - but only four hits. On Friday, Juneau had 10 hits - including a two-run double in the first by Frye and an RBI triple in the seventh by Nicole Fenumiai.
"I had three RBIs, thank you very much," said Juneau third baseman Cortney Wagner, who went 2-for-3 with a walk. "Everyone hit a lot better."
"We won as a team," added Fenumiai, who reached base all five times she went to the plate - on three hits, a walk and an error - and scored four runs. "It was 10 months of preparation."
Juneau jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first as Frye, Juneau's starting pitcher, doubled in two runs, then scored on a single by Wagner. Juneau made it 4-0 in the third as Fenumiai singled and scored on a bases-loaded walk by Abella. The All-Stars made it 7-0 in the fourth as Laliberte singled and scored when Fenumiai singled and reached third on an error in center. Frye singled Fenumiai home and scored on a grounder by Darby Brown.
Nunaka Valley scored its first run of the tournament in the bottom of the fourth when Shatara Williams walked and then scored when Frye picked up a come-backer to the mound from Katie Steffens and overthrew second trying to start a double play.
But Juneau countered with a run in the sixth as Fenumiai walked and scored on a grounder by Wagner, and another run in the seventh as Hannah Massey walked and scored on Fenumiai's triple. Nunaka Valley scored once in the bottom of the seventh as Shaylie Wight-Crask reached on an error, then scored when Amanda Ng reached on another error. But Laliberte, who threw the final three innings in relief of Frye, got Brandi Bembry to fly out to Massey in right to end the game.
"I was glad we won," said Massey, who was on Juneau's Major Division team that lost the state title to Nunaka Valley last year.
"Our offense was there today," said Frye, whose family is being transferred to Colorado Springs, Colo., by the U.S. Coast Guard later this summer. "They tried to mix us up with all those pitchers (Nunaka Valley made five pitching changes using three players), but it didn't work."
While Nunaka Valley lost, the players were happier with Friday's game than with Thursday's loss.
"Basically we were so tied up in our heads," Bembry said of Thursday's loss. "We know we played better today, we had a better attitude, more smiles. We had fun. And we want to thank Coach Gary (Gary Steffens) - he's the best coach we've ever had."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.