One more win, and the Juneau Senior girls softball squad will have the chance to become Louisville sluggers.
The Gastineau Channel Little League Senior All-Stars advanced to the finals of the Western Regional Senior (age 15-16) Little League Softball Tournament in Butte, Mont., on Tuesday with a 3-1 win over Snow Canyon Little League of St. George, Utah.
Juneau will play San Marino, Calif., at 11 a.m. ADT today, with the winner earning a berth in next week's Senior Softball World Series in Jeffersontown, Ky., a suburb of Louisville.
A play-by-play radio broadcast will air locally on KINY 800 AM and over the Internet at www.golivesports.com.
"We know that Juneau is behind us, and that's what they're playing for," Juneau manager Dennis Powers said of his team. "They want to go to the World Series really bad. They can taste it."
With Tuesday's win, the GCLL All-Stars advanced as far as the 1999 Juneau Junior Division (age 13-14) Little League baseball squad, which reached - but lost - the championship game of their regional tourney in Albuquerque, N.M. Prior to this season, the 1999 baseball team had the best postseason finish of any Gastineau Channel Little League squad.
In Tuesday's game, Juneau's defense was sparkling, its offense staged a dramatic fifth-inning rally and starting pitcher Hannah Barril went the distance, allowing just one Utah hit.
Utah got on the board first in the bottom of the second inning, as Sierra Kittrell walked, then scored on a Juneau throwing error.
With the GCLL All-Stars languishing at the plate, a stellar defensive play by catcher Nicole Bavard to end the fourth inning got the team pumped up.
Bavard reached out to catch a short foul fly, and was able to pick off a Utah runner who had headed from first to second.
"It was a little looper foul ball," Powers said. "She dove and caught it, and threw to first (from her knees) for the double play. ...
"That got us going; it got us fired up."
"She's always there," Barril said of Bavard. "You can always count on her" to make those kinds of plays.
With one out in the top of the fifth, Bavard continued her jump-starting role by singling and stealing second. After the Utah pitcher struck out a Juneau batter, pinch hitter Katie Damian came to the plate, was patient and drew a walk.
"She stood up there and fought it off," Powers said.
Things looked bleak for Juneau for a split second as the next batter, Melissa White, struck out swinging on a low pitch. But the Utah catcher flinched with White's swing and lost the ball in the dirt. White took off for first and just managed to beat the catcher's throw.
With the bases loaded and two outs, Jordan Johnston came to the plate and cleared the bases by belting a three-RBI triple.
Johnston said she came to the plate a little tense and frustrated from failing to get a hit in her first two at-bats. But with her teammates cheering her on, she connected on an outside pitch and dropped it about 5 feet inside the left-field line. The ball rolled all the way to the fence.
Utah threatened in the final half-inning. In the bottom of the seventh, St. Joseph got runners at first and third with two outs. One of those baserunners got aboard on a single, the only hit Barril allowed in the game.
Utah's Sagen Harlen launched a fly ball to right center, which Juneau right fielder Torie Powers dove and caught to end the game.
"If Torie had missed it, (the hit) would have scored two runs and tied the game," Dennis Powers said.
Torie Powers was playing in Tuesday's game after being shaken up in a collision with a opposing baserunner in Monday's game against San Marino.
Barril finished the game with six strikeouts, and gave credit to her teammates for backing her up on defense - and getting her to relax and have fun on the mound.
"They've been telling me to relax, breathe and smile - and it helped me out," she said.
Kittrell started and pitched the first five innings for Utah. She was relieved by Nikki Norton. The two pitchers held Juneau to three hits.
Juneau and San Marino - the Southern California representative - finished the four-game round-robin portion of the tournament with 3-1 records. San Marino's only loss came to Juneau in a 4-2 decision Monday.
"It's just so exciting to have made it this far," Johnston said. "We have a very strong team, and I think we'll be able to do it. ... We have the skill and the talent and the attitude."
Most of the Juneau players were on last spring's Juneau-Douglas High School varsity softball team that finished third at the state tournament. Johnston said the Butte tourney has been more exciting, because the team gets to play on a larger stage.
"You're playing teams from other states (and winning) proves you're better than other states," she said. "Some people didn't expect a lot from Alaska, but now I think they'll realize that we have talent."
Andrew Krueger can be reached at email@example.com
JUNEAU'S GCLL ALL-STARS 4,
ST. JOSEPH, UTAH. 2
Tuesday's game from Butte, Mont.
JUNEAU 000 030 0 - 3 3 2
ST. JOSEPH 010 000 0 - 1 1 2
Juneau - Barril and Bavard. St. Joseph - Kittrell, Norton (6) and Moore. WP - Barril. LP - Kittrell. Sv - None. 2B - None. 3B - Juneau 1 (Johnston 1), St. Joseph 0. HR - None.