A mix of senior leadership and youth brought home the ASAA Division II State Softball Championship on Saturday at Anchorage’s Cartee Fields as Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé.
Senior Anna Dale rapped a two-out line drive single into center field and freshman Gwen Nizich zipped home from third base giving the Crimson Bears a 6-5 state title win over the Sitka Wolves.
“I was definitely kind of stressed out,” Dale said. “I mean it was two outs and bottom of the seventh. So I was definitely stressed out, but Mariah (Schauwecker) was after me and she was like, ‘hey, take a deep breath, you got this.’ And I just took a deep breath and waited for my pitch, and it was a good strike so I swung and it was a solid hit. I was just so happy after our entire season we were able to pull it off and win the state title.”
Dale’s senior class had their freshman season cancelled by the COVID pandemic, but as sophomores the team won state. Last year JDHS was upset at regions. Getting the title back this season also brings back another favorite tradition for the Crimson Bears.
“Well, there isn’t a Disneyland in Anchorage,” Dale said. “We went to the mall, and we are going to dinner and then to Cold Stone Creamery for ice cream.”
The path to those treats rested on Dale’s plate appearance with the score tied 5-5.
“It was 2-0 so I had a pretty good feeling that she didn’t want to get 3-0,” Dale said. “So I had a pretty good feeling it was going to be a strike, but I did not know what kind of pitch. Right when I hit it I didn’t think it went as far as the outfielder. And then when I realized how far it went I was kind of like, ‘no please, don’t catch it.’ But right before I stepped on first base I realized that it dropped and that was when I became so happy.”
That final at-bat in the bottom of the seventh inning began with JDHS senior Zoey Billings hitting a single to Sitka junior centerfielder Adriana Denkinger.
“That was Zoey’s first time hitting that day,” JDHS coach Lexi Razor said. “She had been playing in right field, but not hitting, and she went in and got us a good little base hit to get us started. It was good stuff.”
JDHS’ Nizich reached on a fielder’s choice to Sitka senior shortstop Kaleena Tucker who threw to senior second baseman Macee Steinson forcing out Billings.
JDHS junior Chloe Casperson bunted with Nizich on the move. Nizich would be safe at third base, but Casperson was thrown out stretching the hit to second as Sitka junior catcher Kaiya Balovich threw to Sitka senior third baseman Harlee Nelson, who threw to Tucker who tagged Casperson sliding in. That would set up the final at-bat for Dale to bring home Juneau’s championship.
“It’s huge,” Dale said. “Just playing with the same group of girls since we were little. It is so nice to end our career this way. Especially playing three sports it is so nice to just go all out my senior year and end my sports career on this season.”
Sitka coach Jael McCarty said of the crucial seventh inning, “bases loaded on offense and one out away on defense. Our team just has a lot of grit and resilience. They never say die. I am really proud of how today went. Obviously I would have liked to win it, they would have liked to win it but they left nothing on the field. They gave everything they had today and Juneau is a great team.”
Sitka tied the score in the top of the seventh inning, but it came with dramatics. JDHS junior pitcher Mila Hargrave got Sitka junior Kaiya Balovich to ground out to JDHS shortstop Schauwecker and Sitka’s Tucker to ground out to JDHS senior second baseman Gloria Bixby. Hargrave then hit Sitka junior Dalila Callahan with a pitch, walked Nelson and hit freshman Allyson Mayville to load the bases.
JDHS’ Yadao relieved Hargrave in the circle, coming back into the pitching rotation for the second time in the contest, and struck out Sitka’s Denkinger for the third out — but Dale dropped the strike, meaning the play was live, and Sitka’s Denkinger reached first and Callahan scored to tie the game 5-5.
“I don’t remember what she threw,” Dale said. “I don’t remember if it was a missed fastball or a missed curve and I don’t remember what we called on that pitch either. But the batter went to swing on it, and I lost the ball in the bat and it got past me.”
Sitka had trailed in the top of the sixth inning as well, but Denkinger hit a one-out double and scored on a double by freshman Alina Lebahn to tie the game at 4-4.
In the bottom of the sixth inning the Crimson Bears’ Hargrave hit a lead-off home run that cleared the left field fence for the 5-4 advantage.
“It felt really good,” Hargrave said. “I had been struggling the last few weekends to hit and I had three home runs today in two games, and so it felt really good to get solid contact with the ball. We had some obstacles to overcome this tournament with people getting sick and I think our team did a really good job. I am glad I could help our seniors and I am glad they are leaving with the solid win. It was kind of nerve wracking, but I think that it’s good to know our community was supporting behind us.”
JDHS scored the first runs of the game, putting four across the plate in the bottom of the second inning.
The Crimson Bears’ Hargrave led off the inning with a home run for 1-0. Yadao reached on an error, but senior Carlynn Casperson put a bunt into the air that Sitka’s Nelson caught and threw to Sitka teammate Callahan at first base to double off Yadao.
JDHS’ Bixby would earn a walk off Sitka sophomore pitcher Kaelynn Balovich, JDHS senior Amira Andrews singled to right field and JDHS’ Nizich parked a line-drive home run past the left field fence for 4-0.
Sitka threatened to score in the top of the fourth inning as the Wolves Callahan hit a long shot to left field, but JDHS’ Car. Casperson caught the ball on the warning track before it went over the fence.
“It feels amazing to win state,” Carlynn Casperson said. “Really proud of the team and all the work this season, only having two non-conference losses, and bringing it all together at the end. It was quite the battle. We are all about teamwork, encouraging each other, battling back when situations get hard. The team was really resilient this year and it really came through for us. This game was full of adrenaline for sure. There were stressful moments, highs, lows, but definitely one to remember. I was happy both Southeast teams were able to show up and represent here at state playing each other.”
Sitka scored three runs in the top of the fifth inning as Lebahn hit a one-out home run past the left field fence. Wolves senior Macee Steinson and junior Naia Nelson earned walks and Kai. Balovich doubled to right field, scoring both to close within one run, 4-3, before tying the game in the top of the sixth.
“It has been amazing,” Sitka’s Lebahn said of her teammates. “I have been playing with them a long time, through Little League, through club ball. They are just an amazing team to have. I love them. I learned how to bounce back for sure, that we all have each other’s backs, that it doesn’t matter who is in the game, we are all still playing for each other. And especially the seniors, all their support, really pushed me and they made me the player I am today, honestly, they made me a better player.”
Nizich led the Crimson Bears with three RBIs, Hargrave had two and Dale one. Dale led with three hits; Ch. Casperson and Hargrave two apiece; Nizich, Andrews and Billings one each. Nizich and Hargrave scored two runs apiece, Bixby and Andrews one apiece. Bixby earned one walk. Hargrave’s two hits were both home runs as was Nizich’s lone hit.
Hargrave pitched a total of two-and-two-thirds innings, allowed one hit and one run, walked three batters and struck out one. Schauwecker went two innings and struck out one. Yadao went two-and-a-third innings, allowed four hits and four runs, walked two, and struck out four.
Sitka’s Kae. Balovich went one-and-a-third innings, allowed six hits and four runs and walked one. Lebahn went five innings, allowed four hits and two runs and struck out three.
Kai. Balovich and Lebahn led Sitka with two RBI and two hits apiece. N. Nelson, H. Nelson and Denkinger had one hit each. Denkinger had one RBI. N. Nelson, Callahan, Denkinger, Lebahn and Steinson each scored one run. N. Nelson and H. Nelson has two walks apiece, Callahan and Steinson one apiece. Lebahn had one home run.
“We had a good loss, I mean, we fought our hearts out,” Sitka’s H. Nelson said. The third baseman received Sitka’s Player of the Game Award.
“It was a good game,” she said. “I am most proud of my team being able to have that energy to play all those games today and still end the way we ended. My advice to younger players would be to just try your best and play every game like it is your last. Just never give up because it does come to an end eventually.”
Beating North Pole in the semifinal
Earlier Saturday, JDHS defeated North Pole 4-1 in the winners bracket semifinal.
North Pole scored their lone run in the top of the first inning as junior Brenneke Tobin was hit by a pitch and scored two outs later on a single to right field by senior Madison Kurzenberger.
JDHS scored in the bottom half of the first inning as Nizich singled and scored one out later. They would score in the bottom of the fourth inning as Schauwecker led off with a single and scored on a Hargrave hit to lead 2-1. JDHS scored a run in the bottom of the fifth inning as Andrews led off with a walk and scored two outs later on a single by Dale for 3-1. They added the final run in the bottom of the six inning on a lead-off power blast by Hargrave over the center field fence.
Nizich went 2-3 with one run; Dale 2-3 with two RBIs; Hargrave 1-2 with one run and one RBI; Schauwecker 1-1 with one run; Andrews one run; Ch. Casperson, Yadao, Car. Casperson and Andrews one walk.
“Gwen (Nizich) did a great job for us at state playing third all weekend,” Razor said. “And I think she hit a couple home runs herself. It is impressive for a freshman. She handled the pressure well. She took adjustments to third when we told her. She does a really good job of taking feedback and just doing the best that she can. We are all excited to see what she does for us the next three years.”
Hargrave pitched five innings, allowed one hit and one run, walked two and struck out five. Yadao went one inning and senior Bailey Hansen one inning with one strikeout.
North Pole sophomore Savannah Wheaton went six innings, allowed six hits and four runs, walked four and struck out six.
Patriots senior Kurzenberger went 1-2 with one RBI and one walk, Tobin scored one run, and freshmen Hunter Barber and Kiah Weimer earned one walk apiece.
In Saturday elimination game action Sitka topped Kodiak 9-1 and then defeated North Pole 14-13 to gain the championship game against JDHS.
“It feels really, really good and it was a hard week,” Razor said. “In pool play we lost a game so (we) didn’t get a bye, and then on Friday Anna (Dale) had food poisoning. So we had to wake up early and figure out which of our girls could catch because we didn’t have a backup catcher.”
“Mariah (Schauwecker) caught the morning game and did an awesome job. Anna sat that game out, she couldn’t play. She was able to get enough rest and enough fluids that she was able to play the next game and did great. She even had a home run. Our pitchers did really well. Kiah (Yadao) pitched really well this weekend. She pitched well today, she came in and we ended up finishing with her… all of our pitchers did a great job.”
“There was a lot of good softball being had. Sitka fought really hard. They gave us a run for the money. It was really exciting to see the girls pull through and execute bunts, execute their defense, do everything that they needed to do. We just had a great weekend.”
The Crimson Bears were error free in three of the five double-elimination format tournament games JDHS played (Friday vs. Kenai and Delta, and Saturday vs. Sitka). That was largely due to Nizich at third base, Schauwecker at short, Bixby at second base and Hargrave at first base, along with Dale catching and starting outfielders Ch. Casperson, Car. Casperson and Billings.
JDHS junior Hargrave noted this advice for young first basemen: “Be flexible. I’m not that flexible but I can stretch far because my legs are so long, so it helps to be tall.”
Crimson Bears senior Carlynn Casperson said she hopes younger teammates remember to have fun “and just go out there and do your best.”
Her senior classmate Dale said: “I hope that they just look up to what we accomplished and how we got here. Because in the top of the seventh Kiah (Yadao) had that strike out but it bounced before the plate and I wasn’t able to stop it and that’s when the tying run got in. Even after that I was able to come back and hit that even with the pressure on. I just hope that shows them to just never give up, even when the pressure is on just go out and have fun and you’ll be successful. We definitely had pros and cons of playing Sitka because we knew them, but they also knew us. As much fun as run-ruling is, it is fun to have a real close game and win. It feels way more accomplishing.”
JDHS seniors Dale and Schauwecker and junior Hargrave were chosen to the All-State Tournament team. The Crimson Bears finished the 2023 season with a 23 wins and two losses. Sitka finished 25-18. Wolves seniors Tucker and H. Nelson were All-State selections.
“We battled all we could,” Sitka’s Tucker said. “It was just a phenomenal state season. We started from the very bottom of the losers bracket and fought our way all the way back to the top for second place. I’m just really happy we didn’t stop until the very end, and we were really good at bringing each other up and just calming down and being level and having fun.”
Other tournament results
The state tournament started Thursday with pool play. JDHS beat Kodiak 9-1 and lost to North Pole 5-3, while Sitka lost to Delta 9-1 and beat Kenai 20-8. JDHS and Sitka were placed second in their respective brackets for the Friday tournament.
In the start of double-elimination play Friday, North Pole and Delta received first-round byes.
Juneau defeated Kenai 9-0 and Sitka fell to Kodiak 8-6. Kodiak would advance and lose to North Pole 8-7 while Juneau advanced and defeated Delta 11-3. Sitka then eliminated Delta 9-1 and Kodiak eliminated Kenai 13-5.
Juneau 9, Kenai 0.
Friday morning brought some adversity to the roster.
According to Juneau stats the Crimson Bears defeated the Kardinals in a run shortened five-inning game behind a 2-3 day at the plate for Schauwecker with three RBI and one run scored. Nizich and Ch. Casperson had two RBI, Hargrave one. Nizich and Ch. Casperson had two hits apiece, Yadao, Car. Casperson and Z. Billings one each. Z. Billings scored three runs; Andrews had two; Nizich, Ch. Casperson, and T. Billings one each. Nizich, Hargrave, Andrews and Z. Billings earned one walk each.
Hargrave pitched three innings, allowed one hit, walked one and struck out six. T. Bentz pitched two innings and struck out three.
Juneau 11, Delta 3
Schauwecker went 4-4 with two RBI and three runs scored, and Dale went 2-3 with 3 RBI and one run scored to lead the way. Dale had one home run blast. Hargrave went 2-3 with one run scored. Car. Casperson had one RBI and one run scored. Bixby had one hit and one run scored. Nizich, Ch. Casperson had one run scored. Nizich, Ch. Casperson, Dale, Hargrave and Bixby earned one walk each. Yadao pitched a complete six innings, allowed five hits and three runs, walked two and struck out eight.
In the ASAA Division I Softball Championships the Chugiak Mustangs had to win four games on Saturday for the title. South Anchorage defeated East Anchorage 6-0 in the winners semifinal while Chugiak defeated Colony 16-1 in an elimination semifinal. Chugiak then eliminated East 11-7 to earn the championship clash. Chugiak defeated South 9-8 giving both teams one loss and forcing the if-necessary title game which Chugiak won 8-3.
• Contact Klas Stolpe at email@example.com.