The Juneau Senior softball squad won its divisional tournament Tuesday on a shoestring.
Shoestring catches, that is, and other sparkling defensive plays that lifted the Gastineau Channel Little League Senior Division (age 15-16) All-Stars over Kirkland, Wash., 6-3 in the Northwest Division tourney title game in Portland, Ore.
Among Juneau's gems on defense were Veronica Leitz's running catch in right field to end a sixth-inning rally, and pitcher Andrea Doerflinger's snare of a line drive to record the game's final out.
"Those are the kind of plays that saved us today," Juneau manager Dennis Powers said.
The Juneau Seniors move on to play later this week at the Western Regional in Chico, Calif. The winner of that tournament advances to the Senior Softball World Series in Delaware.
Also Tuesday, the Juneau Junior Division (age 13-14) softball squad fell to Idaho 5-2 in the final of their Northwest Division tourney in Billings, Mont. The Juniors beat Oregon 4-2 in a semifinal game earlier in the day.
In Portland, the Juneau Seniors won behind a complete-game, two-hit effort by Doerflinger on the mound.
But walks and a few errors in the otherwise solid defense kept Kirkland in the game.
"They were nervous the whole game," Powers said of both teams. "The butterflies never settled down. ... There were mental mistakes that don't normally happen."
Kirkland scored first, going up 1-0 in the bottom of the first on a walk and a Juneau error. In the top of the second, Juneau's Ashleigh Wilwert walked, advanced on a bunt by Madison Massey and scored on a fielder's choice by Alicia Maryott.
In the third inning, the All-Stars went up for good when Sammy Roguska tripled and came home on a single by Doerflinger. Roguska hit an RBI double to score Massey in the fourth to put Juneau up 3-1.
It stayed that way until the seventh and final inning, when Kayla Janelle reached first on a bunt, stole second and scored on a double by Doerflinger. Ashley Kelly, pinch-running for Doerflinger, advanced on a Rachelle Miller bunt. Both runners scored on a single by Katie Laliberte to give Juneau a 6-1 lead.
In the bottom of the seventh, Kirkland made things interesting. Several Juneau errors and a passed ball allowed the Washington squad to score two runs and load the bases. With the potential winning run at the plate, Doerflinger caught the line drive to end the game.
"It was getting touch-and-go," Powers said.
It is the second straight year a Juneau Seniors team has won the Northwest Division tourney, but it is the first divisional title for this year's group of girls.
Juneau opens round-robin play at the Western Regional on Friday evening at 7 p.m. ADT, and will play at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday and Monday as well. The five-team tournament includes Juneau, the host Chico squad, and the champions from a Southwest and two California divisionals.
The top two round-robin teams will play in a championship game on Aug. 11.
Sasha Frye led the way as the Juneau Juniors started off Tuesday's play with a semifinal win over Milton-Freewater, Ore. Frye pitched the entire game - allowing five hits and tallying 11 strikeouts - while also hitting a home run.
Frye's homer was a "beautiful shot," Juneau manager Bill Laliberte said, that traveled about 225 feet to left-center field.
"It was a really good game for her," Bill Laliberte said of Frye. "It wasn't a high-scoring game, but our defense kept us in it."
Oregon scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh before Frye closed out the game with a strikeout.
The All-Stars ran out of steam in the championship game against Lewiston, Idaho. Lewiston, the lowest-seeded team in elimination play, kept Juneau batters quiet with the off-speed pitching of starter Shannon Zenner.
"Bottom line, it was a hitting issue," Bill Laliberte said. "We had four hits in the game. ... We couldn't get our bats going."
It was Juneau's lowest hit total of the tourney, he said.
Carrie Laliberte was Juneau's starting pitcher, and went 2-for-4 from the plate with an RBI double. Frye closed out the game on the mound for Juneau.
Bill Laliberte said this year's Juniors squad was young - but accomplished a lot.
"To make it to the championship game at divisionals is phenomenal," he said. "All in all, they did an outstanding job. They greatly exceeded expectations."
In other Little League play, the Juneau Juniors baseball team plays its first Western Regional game today when it faces the Utah state champions in round-robin play at 4 p.m. ADT. The game will be broadcast on KJNO-AM 630.
The Juneau Empire sports desk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.