Juneau's Gastineau Channel Little League All-Stars could use a mulligan, a do-over.
Juneau couldn't recover after spotting Anchorage's Nunaka Valley All-Stars three runs in the first inning, as the GCLL All-Stars lost 4-1 in Sunday's decisive third game of the Alaska State Major Division (age 11-12) Little League Softball Tournament at Melvin Park.
Nunaka Valley's victory, the second over Juneau in as many state tournaments, sends the Anchorage team to the West Regional in Vancouver, Wash., later this week. Nunaka Valley's victory also prevented Juneau from sweeping the three state softball tournaments it sends teams to (Major, Junior and Senior divisions) for the second time in three years.
"We knew we had to win. We tried our hardest," said Nunaka Valley pitcher Ginny Rosser, who allowed two hits and struck out 12 in a much sharper performance than she had in a 6-3 loss with 13 walks in Friday's tournament opener. "This is what we prepared for. When I threw that last strike, my heart was pumped."
After losing Friday's opener, Nunaka Valley came back to win Saturday's rain-delayed game 8-5. Juneau scored twice at the end of that game, but Nunaka Valley didn't let Juneau bring that momentum into Sunday.
Rosser got the first three batters out, then Nunaka Valley gave her some breathing room in the bottom of the first. Second baseman Rachel Schoenborn tripled and scored on an sacrifice fly to right by Rosser. Then catcher Yolanda Alailefaleula singled and scored on a single by shortstop Devin Chapman, who came around to score on a passed ball.
"We practiced a lot," Schoenborn said. "I wasn't really surprised."
Nunaka Valley's rally had Juneau manager Gail Fenumiai after the game wondering what would have happened "if we could erase that first inning."
Juneau did respond with a run in the top of the second inning, as center fielder Lii Levale walked and came around to score on a wild pitch. But Juneau left the bases loaded that inning, and had 10 runners left on base for the game and 31 total left on base for the three-game tournament.
"I felt like I did my best on the field, but not at bat," said Juneau pitcher Brittany Fenumiai, who gave up four hits and struck out eight for the game. "It was fun."
"I think she (Rosser) was a little more confident than before," Levale said. "We tried our best."
Nunaka Valley added an insurance run in the third inning when Alailefaleula walked, went to third on a double by Chapman, then scored on a delayed steal. Alailefaleula danced off third after several pitches, drawing bluff throws by catcher Annie Hegar, then took off when Hegar threw the ball back to Fenumiai on the mound. The throw back home was late and Nunaka Valley had a 4-1 lead.
"Did you see that steal home," Alailefaleula asked. "That was awesome. I made it home."
"I got pumped," Chapman said of her hit.
Juneau left runners at first and second in both the third and fourth innings, then left the bases loaded again in the fifth without scoring. Brittany Fenumiai escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fourth without Nunaka Valley scoring.
"We needed better hitting in the (batter's) box, and not swinging at junk," Juneau left fielder Jackie Koerperich said when asked what her team needs to do to beat Nunaka Valley. "We were waiting for her (Rosser) to walk batters like she did before, and she struck us out. After they scored a bunch of runs, we were down. We didn't expect it."
"I think we were too apprehensive in the box," Gail Fenumiai said. "You can't win ball games that way."
Both pitchers closed out the game on strong notes. Brittany Fenumiai found her groove and struck out the side in the bottom of the fifth. In the top of the sixth, Rosser got two grounders to second before striking out Juneau's last hitter to end the game.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.