Juneau coach Jaysen Katasse had a simple message for Micah Nelson when he tabbed the 9-year-old to pitch late in the Alaska District 2 Little League Minors Baseball Special Games finale against Sitka.
“Just throw strikes,” Katasse said.
Nelson heeded his coach’s instructions, securing strikeouts for four of the five final outs of the game to seal Juneau’s 7-4 win over Sitka on Saturday evening at Norman Walker Field in Ketchikan. It was Juneau’s third win of the tournament, which began on Tuesday and featured Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and two Ketchikan squads.
“He’s a really calm, collected kid, and I had a lot of faith in him and I knew he could do it,” Katasse said.
Katasse said he tried to keep his team upbeat after Sitka scored three runs in the first inning and led for the next five innings.
“I said, ‘Boys, we have five innings left, let’s go,’ and just tried to get them to collect themselves and remember all the practice and the time and the hours that we put in in the cage, on the field, on the pitching mound,” Katasse said.
The encouragement paid off in the sixth, when Noah Lewis’ inside-the-park home run gave Juneau a 4-3 lead.
A hit by Sitka’s Colton McGraw tied the game up at 4, but Nelson stranded McGraw to end the inning, posting the first of his four strikeouts to send the game into extra innings.
Nelson said he was pretty nervous when he got behind in the count against a Sitka with McGraw standing on third base. Another hit by Sitka, and McGraw would win the game for Sitka.
“I got a little scared, so I started lobbing them in,” Nelson said. “So I was mostly scared.”
Juneau pulled away in the top of the seventh, stealing a handful of bases while scoring three runs. Parker Katasse led off the inning with a single, and Callen Walker and Ibrahima Diouf drew back-to-back walks. All three came around to score.
The Juneau players were selected individually for the team upon the conclusion of the Gastineau Channel Little League season, and practiced together almost every day in the two weeks leading up to the tournament.
Juneau began the tournament on Tuesday with 8-7 victory over Ketchikan. The team had Wednesday off before heading back on the diamond to face Ketchikan on Thursday, winning 5-3, to secure a spot in the championship game on Saturday.
“There was no game for us that wasn’t a nail biter and came down to the end,” Katasse said.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.