Sport is a wonderful thing. Especially if you’re Juneau Post 25 manager Joe Tompkins.
Sharing a house with 15 teenagers over the last 10 days during the team’s final road trip in Anchorage, Tompkins couldn’t wait to get to the ballpark each day.
“They’re like cats and dogs when they are at the house,” Tompkins said. “But when they get to the field, they actually calm down and play some baseball.”
Those cats and dogs were named champions Saturday night.
Juneau rode a strong outing by Finn Collins — who struck out six batters and gave up two hits —to a 3-1 victory over Service Post 28 in the championship game.
“I was just looking to throw strikes and let my defense work, and it showed off today,” Collins said.
Juneau’s defense sure did show off. Catcher Alex Muir tossed out runners trying to steal second, shortstop Zeb Storie initiated double plays and Bryce Swofford used his 6-foot-7 frame to his advantage at first base.
“Today’s motto was, ‘We didn’t come this far, to come this far,’ so we just took it to heart (and) didn’t quit,” Storie said, who was was named tournament MVP at the conclusion of the game. “We didn’t want it to end not going anywhere else.”
The team now heads for the American Legion Northwest Regional Tournament, held this year in Missoula, Montana, from Aug. 2-6.
Storie started at pitcher for the second time on Saturday. Before long though, after just four outs, Storie sunk back to where he was most comfortable, shortstop. Collins took over at pitcher and instantly assumed the mentality of the starting pitcher role — he went the next six and two-thirds innings.
Juneau got off to a shaky start in the first inning. Service’s first three batters walked or singled, and before Juneau could record their first out of the game, Service scored a run. Post 25 would get out of the inning thanks to a 6-4-3 double play.
The Cougars wouldn’t score again in the final eight innings however, a testament to Post 25’s defense and will to win the championship.
“Like halfway through the second game, my legs were Jell-O,” Storie said. “The coaches, as the smart guys they are, just bought us a bunch of Mountain Dews, so all the guys that were playing by the seventh inning were drinking Mountain Dews trying to get a second wind.”
Storie paced Juneau’s offense with two of his tournament-high 11 hits in the final game. He was responsible for batting in Juneau’s go-ahead run in the fifth inning, shooting a single into left field.
With his team leading 3-1, Kasey Watts came in to close the game in the ninth inning. He walked his first batter, but Andrew Jaidinger grounded in to a double play and Carsen Sandau lined out to Storie to end the game.
The celebration had begun. Teammates embraced each other in the infield, tossing their mitts as if they were graduation caps at a commencement ceremony.
“This isn’t just for the team here,” Storie said of the championship. “This is for everyone that came before us, all the older kids when I was a youngin’ on the team.”
In each of the previous four postseasons, Post 25 finished third in the tournament.
A comeback to remember
Earlier in the afternoon, it looked like Juneau wouldn’t even get the opportunity to play for the state title. They trailed by four runs to South Post 4 in the play-in game.
In the eighth inning though, Juneau’s bunting, heads-up base running and a never-say-die attitude brought the squad back from the dead. Juneau went on to win the game in the 11th inning, 6-5.
A wild eighth inning that resulted in four Juneau runs began with a Collins’ lead off single. He stole second and third bases shortly thereafter. Storie’s follow-up bunt did its job and more. Collins came in to score Juneau’s first run in five innings and Storie grabbed two extra bases on a throwing error. Several more bunts, superb base running and costly throwing errors by South tied the gave at 5-5.
The Juneau comeback was on in earnest.
“No one gave up that game and we came in to the next game with a good attitude of, ‘Let’s play one more game, and we’re state champs,’” Collins said.
The game went in to extra innings before Juneau broke through — again. MVP Storie hit a one-out single, and eventually came around to score on Bryce Swofford’s walk-off grounder.
Swofford already had a big game up to that point — he made his first pitching appearance of the season earlier, going three innings in relief while quieting South’s offense.
The team has made the state tournament every year since 2013, when American Legion baseball returned to the Capital City for the first time in over a decade. The squad was 10-8 in tournament games prior to this season, and always one win away from the championship game. Post 25 settled for third place each year.
To prevent that same fate from happening again this year, Juneau had to go through two teams that have eliminated Post 25 from the tournament in recent history: South and Service.
South eliminated Juneau in 2013 and Service did so last year.
It’s Juneau’s first state title at the summer tournament in nearly four decades. Post 25 won back-to-back championships in 1983 and 1984.
Storie led the state tournament with 11 hits while batting just under .500 to make the case for tourney MVP.
He was given the Gold Glove award at last year’s tournament.
“My goal was just to get Gold Glove again, honestly, but I’ll settle for MVP,” Storie said.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.