Two packs of Wolves collided in the ASAA Division I State Baseball Tournament’s fourth/sixth place game Saturday at Sitka’s Moller Field with the visiting Eagle River team defeating Sitka 6-3.
Emotional Sitka Wolves senior Bridger Bird summed up the tournament in limited words.
“It sucked,” Bird said. “Yeah, it didn’t really click until it was over, so… yeah, just… good teammates to grow up with.”
Overcome with emotion, Bird couldn’t finish any thoughts on the heartbreaking finish to the season, but it was evident in his hugs with teammates and his mother that everything was left on the field.
“Oh gosh, I would just say it has been a family, you know,” mother Lindsay Bird said. “It has been our family for the last four years. The ups, the downs, the highs, the lows, it has been great support. It has been a lot of years they have been playing together and it is hard to see it come to an end.”
Sitka gave up a run in the top of the first inning as Eagle River sophomore lead-off hitter Jack Mullen singled and scored on a bases-loaded single by senior Connor Lanehart for 1-0.
Sitka’s defense held, though, as junior third baseman Grady Smith fielded the scoring hit and threw to first base and freshman first baseman Caleb Calhoun returned the toss to out a runner. Senior shortstop Dylan Marx fielded the next ground ball and threw to sophomore second baseman Chance Coleman for an out, and Coleman completed the double play with a throw to Calhoun.
Sitka tied the score in the bottom of the first inning as Marx led off with a single to right field and scored on a one-out double by sophomore Tanner Stinson for 1-1.
Sitka sophomore pitcher Bryce Calhoun gave up a second inning lead-off walk, but struck out the next batter, fielded a ground ball for the second out at first base and Coleman fielded another grounder for the third out.
Bird was hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the second inning and was replaced by sophomore courtesy runner Tyson Bartolaba. Senior Samuel Johnson singled Bartolaba to second. Bartolaba earned third on a passed ball and scored on a fielder’s choice hit by senior Keaton Blankenship for a 2-1 lead.
Eagle River struck back in the top of the third inning with three runs as senior Joshua Thompson singled in sophomore Dalton Smith for 2-2. Junior Gunner Mountcastle then singled to right field, scoring senior Connor Lanehart and Thompson for a 4-2 lead.
Eagle River added a run in the top of the fifth inning as Mountcastle singled to left field scoring Thompson for 5-2.
Sitka scored their final run in the bottom of the fifth inning as Marx led off with a single and advanced to second on a Coleman single. Tanner Steinson walked to load the bases and Smith hit a sacrifice fly to left field scoring Marx to trail 5-3.
Eagle River threatened in the top of the sixth inning, but Blankenship fielded a ground ball for an out, struck out the next batter and got the third out to pop weakly into the outfield.
“Keaton pitched really well for us this year,” Sitka coach Ken Carley said. “We didn’t realize how well he was going to pitch until it was too late. He was lights out for us the last three weekends.”
Eagle River put their final run across in the top of the seventh inning as sophomore William Lierman earned a lead-off walk, Lanehart walked, Thompson grounded out to move the runners up a base and Mountcastle was put out on a ground ball scoring Lierman for 6-3.
Sitka’s Marx earned a one-out walk in the Wolves final at bat, but two long fly balls were caught in the Eagle River outfield ending the game and the season.
“We are a good team,” senior Ben Turner said. “Expectations were high for us. We had high expectations, we just didn’t come to meet them. You know, but stuff happens.”
Turner spoke of walking out onto this same field as a Little Leaguer, part of a team that won the state title and went to the Western Regionals.
“It is crazy,” he said. “Just playing with these guys for our whole life, basically ever since tee-ball.”
Steinson, Smith and Blankenship led the Wolves with one RBI each. Coleman and Johnson had two hits apiece, Marx and Steinson one apiece. Marx scored two runs and Bird one. Marx and Steinson earned one walk apiece.
B. Calhoun started on the mound for Sitka and went five innings, allowed seven hits and five runs, walked four and struck out four. Blankenship (1 IP, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 SO) and Marx (1 IP, 1 SO) relieved.
Eagle River senior Alexander Mullen (6.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 6 SO) earned the win on the mound. Mountcastle led the Eagle River bats, going 2-3 with four RBI. Thompson was 2-4 with one RBI and two runs scored.
“Baseball means so much to our seniors and to Sitka,” Carley said. “I am going to miss all of them. This is one of my favorite groups of kids I had and it’s a big group. Dylan (Marx), Bridger (Bird), Keaton (Blankenship), Ben (Turner), Sam (Johnson)… All of them brought something special. Something to laugh at when things weren’t going good. We had fun and that is what it is about, fun and building character. It is nice to win, too, but it doesn’t always happen. The seniors are always looked up to. They have to always be there or the freshman and sophomores aren’t going to have any idea how we want it done so by the time they are seniors they have it down. I think we accomplished that this season.”
Other tournament results
In Friday consolation action, Sitka defeated West Valley 7-2 in an elimination game to advance to the 10 a.m. 4th/6th place game on Saturday.
Against the West Valley Wolfpack, the bats came alive for Steinson, Bird and Johnson, who led the Wolves with two RBI each. Steinson, Coleman, Johnson and B. Calhoun had one hit each. Smith pitched the complete seven innings, allowed two hits and two runs, walked five and struck out five.
Eagle River advanced to the fourth-place game by eliminating Juneau 2-1 on Friday despite eight innings of pitching strength from Crimson Bears senior Eli Crupi, who faced 31 batters, threw 110 times (73 strikes) and struck out nine while allowing just two hits and no runs.
In Friday semifinal action South Anchorage defeated Colony 5-1 and Service crushed Chugiak 14-0 with the winners advancing to the 3:30 p.m. championship on Saturday and the losers playing at 12:30 for 3rd/5th. South defeated Service 3-2 for the championship and Chugiak defeated Colony 7-2 for third place.
The tournament began Thursday with Sitka falling to Service 8-7, Chugiak nipping West Valley 4-3, South defeating Eagle River 4-3 and Colony stopping Juneau 9-1.
“Service played well and we quit playing defense,” Carley said. “That hurt. Plus a couple walks, a couple errors, a couple key base hits by Service and we were down 7-4 and that was it. We scraped three runs by to get back in it, but we couldn’t add anything to it. Our players now know that a game isn’t over until you get that final out. They thought we had already won, but we had two more outs to get. The final of that game should have been 4-1 us, but it is 8-7 and our attitudes were down for the last couple games.”
“It was tough because we love to play baseball. Our seniors love to play baseball. Our underclassmen love to play baseball. The kids and I really enjoyed the crowd we had on Friday. It was the best crowd I have ever seen. It was loud and a lot of people. It would be nice to see more of that here. It is good for the players to see the crowd yelling.”
Sitka sophomore Tanner Steinson was selected to the All-State Tournament team along with JDHS senior Eli Crupi, Eagle River senior Joshua Thompson, Chugiak junior Preston Rau, Colony junior Brayden Parrent, West Valley senior Olav Moeller, Service juniors Hunter Christian, Jake Rafferty and Coen Niclai, and South seniors Gavin Partch, Kaden Bevegni and Ben Neuberger.