The Gastineau Channel Little League Major All-Stars pose with their state championship banner after defeating Abbott-O-Rabbit Little League, 5-3, on Monday evening at the Abbott-O-Rabbit Field Complex in Anchorage. (Courtesy Photo | David Buss)

The Gastineau Channel Little League Major All-Stars pose with their state championship banner after defeating Abbott-O-Rabbit Little League, 5-3, on Monday evening at the Abbott-O-Rabbit Field Complex in Anchorage. (Courtesy Photo | David Buss)

Little League: Majors advance to Northwest regional after state tourney sweep

Juneau advances to Northwest regional for first time in three years

The Juneau Major All-Stars pitching shined in the District 2 championship game last Tuesday. It was similarly remarkable in three wins at the Alaska state championships over the last three days.

Gastineau Channel Little League swept Anchorage’s Abbott-O-Rabbit Little League in the best-of-five-game series, 3-0, to claim its first state championship in three years on Monday night in Anchorage.

Kaleb Campbell surrendered one hit and struck out eight in Saturday’s 6-5 win. The following day, Thomas Baxter struck out 14 in a 4-2 win. It was Eli Crupi’s turn on Monday evening, striking out seven over four innings, leading Juneau to a 5-3 victory. After walking the first two batters in the bottom of the fourth, Crupi was able to get three straight outs to keep Juneau within striking distance of AOR. Juneau trailed 3-1 at that point.

“We felt like if Eli could keep us in the game, we were going to be able to take a lead at some point and close it out there,” Juneau manager David Buss said via cellphone Tuesday.

That’s just what happened, too. A three-run home run by Campbell sparked a four-run, fifth-inning rally that put Juneau on top 5-3. Antone Araujo recorded four strikeouts in two innings of relief to preserve the lead and clinch the state championship.

“We have really good team spirit,” Campbell said. “Once someone does something we just keep going and we have so much momentum we can’t lose.”

Campbell’s fifth-inning blast was his third of the series. The youngster hit two home runs in Sunday’s win, including a two-run shot in the first inning.

Baxter, Christian Nelson, Sam Lockhart and Araujo all pitched in that win. Nelson and Lockhart combined for only three pitches and two outs in the fourth and fifth innings. But by getting those outs, Buss said, the team could pitch Araujo in the decisive Game 3.

“Christian Nelson threw one pitch and got an out and Sam Lockhart came in and pitched two pitches and got an out and that was what allowed us to save Antone for yesterday; that allowed us to keep his pitch count down,” Buss said. “So we got guys stepping in in the places we need them and doing a good job.”

The Little League Northwest Regional begins Sunday in San Bernardino, California. Little League state champs from Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming will also be there. The Juneau team plays Oregon in the first round. The championship game is slated for Saturday, Aug. 11.

The winner of the tournament will earn a berth to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, which begins Aug. 16.

Juneau was last represented at the Northwest regional three years ago. AOR advanced to the regional tournament in 2016 and Ketchikan did so last year.

Campbell said the team is confident about winning more games in San Bernardino.

“We have three amazing coaches that have helped us so much and I feel like we can do this,” he said.

• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.

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