At the beginning of the season, Juneau Post 25 coach Joe Tompkins asked his team to write down a team goal.
Virtually all of his 18 players wrote the same thing: win a state championship.
The double-elimination American Legion Alaska State Tournament begins today at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage. And as one of the eight (of 16) teams that qualified for the tournament, reaching that goal remains a real possibility. Juneau finished the regular season with a 17-1 record and 69 points, the most of all 16 teams in the state, to earn the No. 1 seed. The team will play No. 8 Kodiak at 6:15 p.m.
”Being the No. 1 seed this year might be a little challenging because sometimes some of the lower seed teams will bounce back up and play a lot better than they did in the regular season,” pitcher Bobby Cox said.
Last year’s state championship squad also finished the regular season with just one loss. But even that team wasn’t immune to some adversity in the state tournament. Juneau Post 25 won their first two games before dropping a 4-3 contest to Service. They managed to win their next three games — all by two or fewer runs — to claim the state title.
Part of what makes winning in the tournament so difficult is going against each team’s best pitchers, said Tompkins.
“We’re deeper in pitchers than most teams,” Tompkins said. “And so a lot of guys, if they don’t think they can beat us, or think they can beat us once, they’re going to save it for the state tournament, to beat us that one time.”
Reigning state tournament MVP Zeb Storie cites additional challenges, such as being on the road. The team stayed in Anchorage after winning its final six regular season games there at the beginning of the week. Juneau defeated Palmer Post 15 and Service Post 28 once and Fairbanks Post 11 and West Post 1 twice.
“And then another (challenge) is you’re playing every single day,” Storie said. “When we have our home series, we play a couple games — four games in a weekend — so we get a week break in between that. And then probably — I wouldn’t really call it the biggest challenge — but the biggest obstacle is you’re the No. 1 seed so you face everyone’s best every single day.”
The tournament winner will qualify for the American Legion Northwest Regional Tournament in Missoula, Montana, next month. Juneau went 0-2 in the regional tournament last year, losing to Missoula Post 27, 13-2, and Lewiston Post 13, 3-1.
The championship game is 3:15 p.m. Tuesday.
66th annual American Legion Baseball Alaska State Championship
Seed, Team, League Points
1. Juneau 69
2. Dimond 66
3. Chugiak 63
4. South 60
5. *West 51
6. Service 51
7. Kenai 48
8. Kodiak 39
*West won the tiebreaker over Service (fewest runs allowed in league games 73-78)
10 a.m. No. 3 Chugiak vs. No. 6 Service
12:30 p.m. No. 4 West vs. No. 5 South
3:15 p.m. No. 2 Dimond vs. No. 7 Kenai
6:15 p.m. No. 1 Juneau vs. No. 8 Kodiak