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Juneau's Auke Bay American Legion Post 25 Midnight Suns saw their dreams of an Alaska State American Legion Baseball Tournament championship come to an end in the semifinals as the Midnight Suns lost an 8-1 decision to Service on Thursday at Anchorage's Mulcahy Stadium.
Service then went on to beat Bartlett 11-1 in Thursday night's championship game to claim its first state Legion title since 1997. Service featured many of the same players from the state champion Service High School team, and the Cougars will represent Alaska at the Region 7 Tournament next week in Sheridan, Wyo.
"We're young," Juneau head coach Jim Ayers said. "It was a heart-breaker. We beat everyone in the state. We haven't had a Legion team in six or seven years and we let this one game get away from us."
Juneau ran into a tough left-handed pitcher in Service's Ryan Callaway. Callaway not only held Juneau to five hits and one run before the game ended after eight innings with the seven-run rule, but he also pitched the first four innings of the championship game against Bartlett, a game that ended after five innings because of the 10-run mercy rule.
Callaway, who earned the tournament's MVP award, told the Anchorage Daily News he'd never pitched more than seven innings before Thursday. In American Legion baseball pitchers are allowed to make up to four appearances in three days totalling 12 innings, and Callaway got his 12 innings in during one day, allowing one run on nine hits.
"They threw a left-hander," Ayers said. "We made contact, but the ball wasn't falling for us. We left seven on base, and we can't hardly do that."
Callaway and Juneau starter Will Nicholas both held their opponents scoreless through the first three innings, but Service took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning. Nicholas, who was sidelined a week ago by pulled pronator muscles in his pitching arm, allowed two baserunners in the bottom of the fifth inning and Ayers decided to go to the bullpen. Service's next batter, Michael Tremaine, greeted reliever Lopaka Pavitt with a three-run home run to make the score 4-0.
"It was a very close ball game up through the fifth, when they got the home run," Ayers said. "Will hurt his arm last week, but he got us to the fifth."
Juneau scored a run in the top of the seventh inning as Bryson Buck singled, stole second, took third on a sacrifice bunt and then scored on a sacrifice fly by Mike Rader. But in the seventh inning, Service scored three more runs to make it 7-1. Two of the runs came on balk calls, with Juneau being called for balks three times in the game. Service added another run in the eighth, ending the game on the seven-run mercy rule after seven innings.
"In the seventh we had this balk business," Ayers said. "Two runs on balks is terrible."
Service committed six errors, but Juneau couldn't capitalize. Besides Tremaine's homer, Service also had a double from Jason McGinnis. Juneau had no extra-base hits.
"We should have played better ball," Ayers said. "We couldn't take advantage of Service's errors. We were clearly the better team.
"It was a good game. Could we do better? Absolutely."
Tremaine, who went 3-for-3 against Bartlett, won the tournament's Big Stick Award after finishing with a .500 batting average with nine RBIs. Juneau catcher Garrett Schoenberger was the Big Stick Award runner-up. Juneau shortstop Joe Ayers won the tournament's Golden Glove Award after posting the best fielding percentage and having the highest number of chances.
"Joe and Garrett were the battlers, everyone was a battler," Jim Ayers said.
The Juneau squad posted a 35-20 record between American Legion and high school baseball, going 14-8 against Alaska's American Legion teams and 22-16 for their summer on the road. Juneau only played one home game this summer, against the Juneau alumni team in July. In June, the Midnight Suns were in Washington and after that Juneau has been on the road in Alaska.
Ayers said the long road trip has been a good bonding experience for his players, many who are only 16 years old and still have two more years of American Legion eligibility left.
"We played some good baseball and we got a lot of expereince," he said. "The young guys got a lot of great experience.
"Everyone feels good about the season, but bad about the game."
COUGARS 8, MIDNIGHT SUNS 1
Thursday's game from Anchorage's Mulcahy Stadium
JUNEAU-AUKE BAY 000 000 10 -- 1 5 2
SERVICE 000 130 31 -- 8 11 6
Nicholas, Pavitt (5), Meek (7) and Schoenberger; Callaway and McGinnis. WP -- Callaway. LP -- Nicholas. Sv -- None. 2B -- Juneau: None; Service: McGinnis. 3B -- None. HR -- Juneau: None; Service: Tremaine.