The Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé Crimson Bears softball team is looking to climb back on to the championship podium in the ASAA Division II State Softball Championships at Anchorage’s Cartee Fields after winning the 2021 state title, but failing to reach the tournament last season.
“Last year was kind of fire for the girls,” JDHS coach Lexi Razor said. “They were ready to do well this year.”
Players returning from that 2021 title include senior Mariah Schauwecker and junior Kiah Yadao, both All-State tournament selections from that season. Schauwecker, Yadao, senior Anna Dale and junior Tristan Oliva were player of the game selections in that tournament and seniors Gloria Bixby, Zoey Billings and Carlynn Casperson and juniors Chloe Casperson and Mila Hargrave all had significant field time. The Crimson Bears won the Region V Championship last weekend.
“I just have to get them to be calm and play their game,” Razor said. “They are an excellent team. There is a lot of maturity, but sometimes we get in our own way. We have to make sure we don’t do that this weekend.”
State softball participants can play between four and eight games, depending on a quick exit or a prolonged march to the top of the trophy case.
To gain momentum from their region championship and be successful at state, Razor said: “We have to hit more. We are very capable of hitting. All the girls are good hitters we just have to get them to relax. That is the big thing we have to figure out.”
The Crimson Bears girls will be opening their state quest in a two-pool round robin format on Thursday with teams from Kodiak and North Pole in their sights, and Sitka, Delta Junction and Kenai in another grouping.
The pool play determines seeding for the double-elimination format state tournament starting Friday.
“Hopefully we win both those two pool games because the winner of the round robin gets a bye for the first game,” Razor said. “The bye makes for an easier weekend.”
The softball tournament is different from the state baseball tournament. In the softball tournament, there is a double-elimination format and no pitch count rule.
“We just keep a count anyway to make sure they are staying healthy and are not injuring themselves,” Razor said. “Even though it is a more natural process you can still get injured and overworked. If it is the end of the year and we are at the state tournament and they are pitching good, they keep going. But regular season we start looking at pitchers when they get in the 50s or 60s for making a change.”
The Crimson Bears three main pitchers are Hargrave, Yadao and Schauwecker. They also bring into the circle Bixby and sophomore Taiya Bentz.
“I think we are in a really good spot pitching wise,” Razor said. “We have been using mostly three, but we have five varsity pitchers that we are able to throw. We have depth there and can keep them on a short leash. So if they start walking we just switch out our pitchers right away.”
The Sitka Lady Wolves last traveled to the state tournament in 2019 and battled through the field to defeat Ketchikan in the if necessary game for the state championship.
“We just have to keep a tired team focused on our goal for one more week,” Sitka coach Jael McCarty said. “We are really trying to focus on getting the top seed in the pool so that we can have the bye game. Even though it is only one game it is a big deal. Seven games versus eight is a big deal. It saves you on arms and attitudes, and all around strength of play. It is really hard to focus for a whole game as a teenage kid, let alone eight of them.”
None of the Lady Wolves have been to the state venue before. The team is loaded with a talent base that has been successful in Little League, earning spots in the state championships and the western region tournaments.
“This group is fun,” McCarty said. “They enjoy being around each other for the most part. Softball is a fun game and you’re out there to have a good time. They keep me on my toes, they keep me laughing, they are just a good group to hang out with.”
The Lady Wolves’ top pitchers are junior Kaiya Balovich, junior Dalila Callahan and sophomore Madison Campbell. Freshman Alina Lebahn and sophomore Leia Daly also are brought into the circle with some regularity.
Thursday pool play games: 10 a.m. JDHS vs Kodiak and Sitka vs Delta; 12:15 p.m. Kodiak vs North Pole; 2:45 p.m. Sitka vs Kenai; 5 p.m. JDHS vs North Pole and Kenai vs Delta.
Friday begins double-elimination play with six games and Saturday features four (and a possible if necessary game) to decide the champion.