Experience and versatility could bode well for the Juneau Junior Softball All-Stars, who begin the Alaska Little League District 2 Tournament today.
The team of 12-14-year-olds take on Ketchikan in a best-of-five game series with games scheduled 6:30 p.m. tonight, 5 and 7 p.m. Wednesday and 5 and 7 p.m. Friday (if necessary) at Melvin Park.
The Juneau squad boasts experience: the majority of the team played two years ago on the Juneau Major All-Stars (10-12 year olds), which swept Ketchikan in the district tournament, won a thrilling clincher against Anchorage at the state tournament and defeated Montana at the West Regional tournament in San Bernardino, California. (Washington later eliminated the team).
“Where we had skill and ability and that drive, now we have all that plus we’ve got two years of maturity in them which makes them smarter in the game,” said Juneau Junior All-Star coach Nicole Adair, who coached the Majors team. “They’re a little bit more hungry than they were two years ago.”
The team is also more versatile, according to Adair.
Once known primarily for her hitting ability, Ruby Davis is now a reliable third baseman. Always a lights out pitcher, Kiah Yadao can now double as a shortstop and outfielder while Anna Dale and Tristan Oliva have grown into sturdy catchers.
“This team is deep in terms of you can bat them anywhere, you can play them anywhere, they’ll just perform,” Adair said.
Some of the the players, like pitcher Riley Harp, have the added motivation of this being their final year of Little League.
“The older girls are trying to just finish their year out strong, their last year of all-stars and get a title of some sort,” Harp said. “The team pretty much has a goal of beating Ketchikan, that’s No. 1.”
There are three softball divisions in the Juneau’s Little League: Minors (8-10 years old), Majors (10-12 years old) and Juniors (12-14 years old). After the season ends in mid-June, a player- and coach-vote determines which players will be named all-stars.
The Juneau Major All-Stars play in their district tournament starting today in Sitka.
“We have a good field of quality kids, there’s no older superstars, but what we have is just a really solid group,” Majors coach Mike Lovejoy said. “I think that with the right teamwork they can go a long way.”
Majors all-stars returners include Jack Lovejoy, Tatum Billings, Chloe Casperson, Jenna Dobson and Mila Hargrave.
The Juneau Minor All-Stars play in special games next starting week at Melvin Park. There is no state or regional tournament for the minors division.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.