The Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé Crimson Bears baseball team is looking to bring home their first ASAA Division I State Baseball crown this weekend since winning the title in Anchorage in 2018.
“We are well rested and we have everyone ready to go,” JDHS coach Chad Bentz said. “We are excited and looking forward to just going and playing some solid baseball. We have had a lot of adversity this year and our new motto is ‘the time is now, the place is here.’ We are going to be in the present, and not look back and not look ahead. Just compete and have fun.”
JDHS will join seven clubs from around the state on Sitka’s Moller Field, including the Region V Southeast Conference champion Sitka Wolves, when the tournament begins Thursday.
The Crimson Bears will open with Colony, the top seed from the Railbelt Conference and last year’s third place finisher at state. The Knights lone loss came to eventual state champ South Anchorage in the semifinals.
“We are playing Colony and our goal is to win the first inning on Thursday against Colony,” said Bentz. “That is one goal. Our second goal is to win the second inning and so forth, and that is the way we are going to approach it. Just keep it simple and win as many innings as possible. If we play like we can I’m very confident that we can put ourselves in a good opportunity to win against any team in the state.”
“All the teams in the state tournament know how to play good baseball, otherwise they wouldn’t be there, they have been playing good baseball consistently all season. There is no team in this tournament that you can take lightly. It doesn’t matter who we play, all we can control is how we play and that is good at bats, being disciplined at the plate, swinging at strikes, being good on the base paths, attacking the strike zone and knowing what to do if the ball is hit to us or not hit to us. That is what we can control. Everything else is not. We will focus on what we can control but it is easier said than done, especially with teenagers. Each player has to focus on their job. I love that, keep it simple.”
JDHS last traveled to the state tournament in 2021 and placed third. Current seniors Eli Crupi, Kaleb Campbell and Joseph Aline, and junior Lamar Blatnick were on that roster.
Pitching is key in the tournament. Teams must adhere to a pitch count rule. If a pitcher throws 35 pitches or less they can pitch the next day with no rest. Between 36 and 55 pitches requires one day of rest. Above 55 pitches requires two days of rest.
A decision to take out a pitcher to save him for a later game could prove disastrous since the tournament has a single-elimination format to advance to the championship game. One misstep and a club is headed to the consolation round, whereas in the region tournament a team can play back through the losers bracket to make the title game.
“For me you have to get to the second round,” Bentz said. “And we are going to put our best out and see what we can do with that. Our goal is to use our pitcher no more than 55 pitches and the only way we can do that is if we score a bunch of runs to give ourselves a lead where we can take him off the mound and utilize the bullpen, and hopefully win that game. If it is a zero-zero ball game we will leave him in because we have to win that game, we want the opportunity to get past the first round. We have a blueprint and if something happens we’ll adjust. Main thing is to play hard and have fun. I’ll take this group of guys against anybody in the state. They are excited to play for our school and the community.”
JDHS’ top pitchers are Crupi and Aline, with bullpen help from seniors Bodhi Nelson, Luke Dean, and Marcus Underwood, junior Landon Simonson and sophomore Riley Fick.
“We’ll know where we are at each inning,” Bentz said. “We’ll adjust. Anybody we play we have to come out with our best foot forward.”
The Sitka Wolves last won the state title in 2017 and didn’t make it back to the tournament until 2021, finishing sixth.
Last season Sitka fell in the state championship game to South Anchorage 6-0. South, the Cook Inlet Conference number one seed, and Eagle River, another state returner from last season, are in the JDHS side of the bracket and both defeated JDHS this season in close games. Service and Chugiak, both returners to state, are on the Sitka side along with West Valley.
“You have to take each game at state one at a time,” Sitka coach Ken Carley said. “If you lose at all you are out of contention to win it all. Our number one priority is to try and take this game against Service on Thursday night. And pitching is huge, 100%.”
The Wolves return a large portion of last year’s runner-up roster including All-State tournament selections senior Dylan Marx and sophomore Chance Coleman, and player of the game selections Marx, junior Grady Smith and sophomore Bryce Calhoun. Seniors Bridger Bird, Keaton Blankenship, Ben Turner, and Samuel Johnson. Sophomores Tanner Steinson, Kayden Wathen, Levi Hodges and Tyson Bartolaba were all on that roster as well.
Smith, Calhoun, Turner and Marx are the Wolves’ top arms.
“We have, probably, eight legit pitchers,” Carley said. “A lot of our players will do well pitching, they are just not starters. With the starters we have now we will try and leave them in as long as we can because when they are on they are on. It seems like in the past when we pulled our starter who was doing well to try and save him it bites us.”
The Wolves went undefeated last weekend at the region tournament on Adair Kennedy Field and now will have the home turf advantage.
“We just have to reassure them how good they are,” Carley said. “As long as they play well and have fun we’ll do well. Having fun is the biggest thing because if you are not having fun you are not going to play well.”
Thursday opening round game times are: 10 a.m. Chugiak (Cook Inlet Conference #2) vs West Valley (Railbelt Conference #2); 1 p.m. South (CIC #1) vs Eagle River (CIC #3); 4 p.m. Colony (RBC #1) vs JDHS (SEC #2); 7 p.m. Sitka (SEC #1) vs Service (at-large bid). Friday games are at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. (consolations) and 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. (semifinals). Saturday games are 10 a.m. (4th/6th); 12:30 p.m. (3rd/5th) and 3:30 p.m. (championship).
“There are no weak teams there,” Carley said. “Everyone is going to have someone that can beat you at any point. It is just a matter of how you play as a team.”
• Contact Klas Stolpe at firstname.lastname@example.org.