The Gastineau Channel Little League Major All-Stars averaged 13 runs per game in the Alaska District 2 tournament when they took Miller Field on Tuesday evening in the final.
So one can imagine the disbelief the team might have experienced after going nine scoreless innings against Ketchikan Little League.
Fortunately for Juneau, things quickly changed in the 10th, when Kaeden Quinto singled to center field with one out.
“We knew then we’d put in Riley Duncan to run for him because that’s his specialty, he’s fast,” GCLL manager David Buss said. “So Riley got in, got over to third and it worked out well for our subs because Sam (Lockhart) is a great bunter and we called it.”
Buss called for a suicide squeeze, a risky maneuver in which a runner on third base breaks for home while a bunt is laid down by the batter, in this case, Lockhart.
“I had to make contact, get the bunt down and Antone (Araujo) was stealing (second base) and Riley was scoring,” Lockhart said. “I just tried to lay it down and I did and it was awesome.”
Lockhart’s bunt dribbled five feet down the left foul ball line and Duncan scored the winning run to seal the 1-0 victory over Ketchikan. It was the seventh game and sixth win of the tournament for the 13-man Juneau team. GCLL entered Tuesday’s game having defeated all four other Southeast teams — Petersburg, Prince of Wales, Sitka and Ketchikan — at least once in the tournament. Juneau lost 2-1 to Sitka in their tourney opener on Sunday, July 15, but exacted revenge on their rivals with a 13-4 win on Sunday, which advanced them to Tuesday’s championship game. In between its two dates with Sitka, Juneau put the hurt on Petersburg (26-1 win), Prince of Wales (19-4 win), Ketchikan (12-1 win) and Petersburg again (10-0).
Ketchikan put its ace on the mound, Colby Hanchey, who shut down Juneau batters for six consecutive innings. Hanchey struck out 12 while only allowing two hits. In addition, the pitcher twice tagged out a Juneau baserunner at home plate —Thomas Baxter in the second inning and Kaleb Campbell in the fourth.
“Hats off to him, he did his job and kept us off the bases,” Buss said. “But our team continually picked each other up. Guys struck out and they had a hard time with it, but the teammates were picking them up and they kept believing every inning.”
GCLL’s pitchers were excellent, too. Baxter, Campbell and Araujo teamed up to throw a one-hitter and amassed 20 strikeouts over 10 innings.
“We knew they had a lot of top, good pitchers and it was going to be a struggle to score runs,” Ketchikan coach Dan Yates said. “We get a few bounces in the other direction we might wind up (with a win).”
After catching for Baxter for three innings, Campbell took over on the mound in the fourth and threw four effective innings. He walked Hanchey in the top of the sixth but struck out two of the following three batters to get out of the inning.
Juneau’s Ezra Vidal singled in in the bottom of the sixth inning but was caught stealing third on a strong throw from first baseman Ryder Criscola. The game would then head to extra innings. Shortstop Colton Shull relieved Hanchey on the mound in the seventh and Araujo took over for Campbell in the eighth. Both relievers continued to make life difficult on batters. Shull allowed three hits in three innings. Araujo struck out four in three hitless innings.
The Juneau team now heads to the state tournament in Anchorage where they will face either Abbott-O-Rabbit Little League (Anchorage) or Knik Little League (Eagle River) in a best-of-five-game series. Game 1 is Saturday at 11 a.m. in Anchorage.