For the second year in a row, Nicole Adair’s squad will be enjoying late-July in Southern California.
The Gastineau Channel Little League (Juneau) Major Softball all-stars claimed the state championship Saturday afternoon at Melvin Park, knocking off Abbott-O-Rabbit Little League, 7-5, sweeping the best-of-five-game series against their Anchorage counterparts.
GCLL won Game 1 and Game 2, 16-13 and 12-2, respectively. The team now moves on to the Little League West Region Softball Tournament in San Bernardino, California, starting next weekend.
“We fought hard and I think we deserved it, and I’m proud of this team,” Juneau third baseman Ruby Davis said.
Saturday’s game was tense throughout, keeping spectators lining the wooden bleachers on edge with every pitch. Jack Lovejoy started in the pitcher’s circle for Juneau and went two innings and gave up three runs on three hits. Kiah Yadao (seven strikeouts) took over in the third inning and pitched the rest of the game, making critical outs in the final two innings. Juneau led by only one run headed into the sixth and final inning.
“Whether you start Jack and end with Kiah, or flip it, the difference in speed (between the two pitchers) is really hard for the batters,” Adair said. “It keeps them on their toes and messes with their timing. And so that combination of the two, it’s a pretty powerful duo.”
The series sweep didn’t come without a little adversity. Following a 30-minute rain delay in the first inning, AOR scored three runs in the bottom of the second to take a 3-1 lead.
But Juneau answered back two innings later.
With the bases loaded in the fourth, Davis hit a two-run single to give Juneau a 5-4 lead. Amira Andrews stepped up to the plate next, and drove home a run on a single to the shortstop, widening the lead to 6-4.
AOR continued to battle over the next two innings, scoring one run, but coudn’t quite get over the hump. AOR manager Joel Mewha said he was proud of the way his team played.
“To have these girls earn their trip down here and get to play and play their hearts out and fight and battle against an amazing team, I couldn’t have asked anything else of these girls,” he said.
It was the sixth win for the Juneau ball club in a little over a week, having finished both the district and state tournaments undefeated. The team plays Washington on Saturday afternoon in its first game at the region tournament, which features 12 different teams from 11 different states.
“There’s nothing like that experience,” Adair said. “These girls travel with Midnight Suns (Fast Pitch Softball club) and they’ve been on the road. They’ve played a ton of games but the experience that they’re going to get down there is like nothing they’ve ever seen and nothing they’ll ever see again. … Since we have some girls on this team that went last year, these girls all understand what it’s going to look like and they’re very, very excited.”
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or email@example.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.