Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified a Juneau-Douglas hitter in the fifth inning as Garrett Bryant. The hitter was Riley Griffin. The article has been updated to reflect the change.
With the game on the line in the last inning, the Juneau-Douglas High School baseball team had just who they wanted coming to the plate.
Senior Luke Mallinger — who had accounted for both the team’s RBIs already — could give the Crimson Bears their first lead of the game with another one.
Mallinger grounded the ball up the middle of the infield and just past the mitt of a diving Reid Brock. Sliding safely into home plate was Michael Cesar, who jumped in the air in celebration, foreshadowing a much bigger celebration a half inning later as JDHS defeated South Anchorage High School 3-2 to capture the ASAA state baseball championship Saturday evening at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage.
“When I was on second base and Luke hit that ball and I finally touched home plate I just jumped up and I was so happy,” Cesar said. “We’re all happy and we’re all enjoying it.”
Mallinger went 2-2 with three RBIs and senior Kasey Watts went 2-2 at the plate to lead JDHS.
“I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” Mallinger said. “The moment when we all threw our mitts in the air and threw our hats and all piled up, that was so much emotion and so much happiness. Definitely remember that for the rest of my life.”
Watts pitched six innings, allowed two runs on two hits while walking six and striking out three. Senior Donavin McCurley pitched the final inning, allowing no hits, walking one and striking out another.
Junior Jacob Woodall pitched a complete game for the Wolverines, surrendering three runs on eight hits.
Facing Woodall in the first inning, JDHS appeared ready to jump out to an early lead, something they had done in their prior two tournament games. Woodall struck out Erik Kelly, though, to strand all three runners.
The Wolverines then took advantage of two uncharacteristic Crimson Bears errors in the bottom half of the inning.
With a runner on first and one out, Watts’ pickoff attempt of Lion Lincoln at first base escaped Kelly’s glove and Lincoln advanced to third base.
The Crimson Bears made another error moments later as Woodell’s pop-up to shallow left field fell through the glove of the left fielder, allowing Lincoln to score from third.
“We brought the team in, we talked about it for a little bit and then we flushed it and went back out and played our ball,” Cesar said of the errors.
Mallinger would answer back in the third inning, hitting an RBI double to right field to tie the game.
Lincoln’s opportunistic base running resulted in another run in the bottom half of the third. After advancing to third base on a wild pitch, Lincoln came home on another wild pitch.
Watts said he didn’t let the miscues demoralize him.
“I think last year I would’ve melt down and probably threw the game for us,” Watts said. “But new year, new me. I know I had a goal stepping on that mound and that was winning the game and not let anyone get to me.”
The Wolverines weren’t immune to wild pitches either, as JDHS made a charge in the fifth inning to tie the game.
Jacob Dale led off the inning with his first hit of the game. Cesar’s hit to left field advanced Dale to second base.
Watts took ball one before Woodall’s second pitch flew high over the catcher to the backstop, allowing both Dale and Cesar to advance. Woodall intentionally walked Watts as the Wolverines hoped to get Mallinger to hit into a double play. Instead, Mallinger’s sacrifice fly scored Dale to tie the game.
A close play at first base prevented the Crimson Bears from taking the lead.
With two outs and runners on second and third, third baseman Terren Sugita fielded a tough grounder. The throw was high and pulled first baseman Chase Subitch off the base for a moment and the umpire called Riley Griffin safe at first base. However, after further discussion among the umpires, the call was reversed and Griffin was called out. Now, instead of the Crimson Bears taking a 3-2 lead with runners on the corners, the score remained tied and the inning came to a close.
The Wolverines’ hitting waned over the next few innings as Watts and the JDHS infield made quick outs.
The Alaska School Activities Activities Association began sanctioning the state baseball tournament in 2000. JDHS quickly established statewide dominance through the first 13 years of the tournament, appearing in over half of the state championship games.
JDHS won state titles in 2002, 2003, 2008, 2010 and 2012. But in the last six seasons, South Anchorage has run the show. After winning their first state championship in 2011, the Wolverines appeared in six of the next seven state championship games, winning it all again in 2013 and 2016.
“When the bracket first came out and we saw that South was on the other side of it, we knew right away if we were going to make it to the championship game it was going to be against South and we wanted it to be against South,” Cesar said. “To win a state championship, you want to play the best to know that you’re the best and we finally pulled through.”
The Wolverines knocked the Crimson Bears out of the tournament both in 2015 and 2017.
“I think it means a lot to our seniors to know that we finally got this team and we showed them what Juneau-Douglas baseball is all about,” Watts added.
It was the first state championship for JDHS coach Chad Bentz, a former player.
“It was a really special year with a really special group of seniors, I’m really going to miss them big-time,” Bentz said. “Not just the talent … they’ve been playing together since they were kids and I don’t see any better way for them to go out.”
Alaska high school baseball champions
2018: Juneau-Douglas (South Anchorage)
2017: Sitka (South Anchorage)
2016: South Anchorage (Chugiak)
2015: Chugiak (South Anchorage)
2014: Sitka (South Anchorage)
2013: South Anchorage (Service)
2012: Juneau-Douglas (Ketchikan)
2011: South Anchorage (Dimond)
2010: Juneau-Douglas (Dimond)
2009: Dimond (Chugiak)
2008: Juneau-Douglas (Sitka)
2007: Sitka (Juneau-Douglas)
2006: Sitka (Chugiak)
2005: Sitka (Homer)
2004: Kodiak (Chugiak)
2003: Juneau-Douglas (Bartlett)
2002: Juneau-Douglas (Lathrop)
2001: Service (Wasilla)
2000: East Anchorage (Juneau-Douglas)
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.