It took 12 innings, but the Juneau American Legion Post 25 Midnight Suns knocked off the Tri-Cities 49ers 4-3 on Wednesday night at Arco Field in Fairbanks to claim the District II regular-season championship.
The victory followed an 11-inning 5-4 Juneau victory on Tuesday.
"It was a hell of a baseball game," Midnight Suns coach Jim Ayers said. "It was probably the toughest two games we played. We played 23 innings here in two days. It was just tough baseball all the way -- good baseball, tough baseball."
"It was a heartbreaker," 49ers coach Billy Smith told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
The two victories in Fairbanks gave Juneau the District II regular-season championship, dropping Fairbanks to second in the standings. The teams now travel to Wasilla for the district tournament, which opens Friday. Kenai took the district's third seed, followed by Wasilla and Homer-Kodiak.
By winning the district title, Juneau clinched a bye in the first round of the district tournament and an automatic berth into the state tournament, which is Aug. 3-9 at Anchorage's Mulcahy Stadium.
"It was a great season for us," Ayers said. "The first time in seven years that Juneau drops in and we take first place. We're district or division champs, and now go to (the district) tournament."
Juneau's pitching staff had 17 strikeouts on the way to the victory, while the Fairbanks pitchers struck out seven in what was a pitchers' duel and defensive struggle for all but one or two innings.
The 49ers opened scoring with three runs in the top of the third inning. Kyle Hatch singled and was driven home by a double from Brandon Lee. Lee and Kyle Bole came home off a hit from Josh Grubich.
Juneau came back in the bottom of the fifth with two runs and added another in the seventh to tie things up. Joe Ayers had a single and a double, scored one run and had one RBI to lead Juneau. Zach Kohan also doubled for Juneau.
Will Nicholas started for Juneau and had eight strikeouts through five innings. Lopaka Pavitt relieved Nicholas in the sixth, and Kalen Meek took the mound in the 10th inning and finished the game. Zach Wilson started the game for Tri-Cities, while Steve Shaver took the loss in relief.
Fairbanks shortstop Chris Cox and second baseman Bole turned five double plays in the game. Smith said Cox made an excellent leaping catch in the bottom of the 10th that kept a runner in scoring position from ending the game. Hatch hit a double in the top of the 12th inning, but Juneau's pitching and defense kept him from scoring.
In the bottom of the 12th inning, Juneau's Mike Rader hit a slow roller to third base that was overthrown to first, allowing Rader to make it all the way to third. Two pitches later, a passed ball brought Rader home, ending the game.
Smith said the close play against Juneau has prepared his squad for the District II tournament.
"They just fine-tuned us for districts and everything else to come," Smith said. "The level of play was excellent. (Tri-Cities) hung in there and performed well under pressure, and those are the kind of games we strive for going into the tournament. I was talking to the Juneau coach after the game, and after 35 to 40 games, this is where you want your teams to be," Smith said.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner contributed to this story.
MIDNIGHT SUNS 4, 49ERS 3
Wednesday's game from Arco Field
FAIRBANKS 003 000 000 000 -- 3 10 3
JUNEAU 000 020 100 001 -- 4 10 2
No outs when winning run scored.
Wilson, Shaver (6) and Lear, Aldridge (8); Nicholas, Pavitt (6), Meek (10) and Baun. WP -- Meek. LP -- Shaver. Sv -- None. 2B -- Fairbanks: Lee, Hatch; Juneau: Ayers, Kohan. 3B -- None. HR -- None.
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