Mariah Tanuvasa Tuvaifale runs to third base during the championship game against Ketchikan for the ASAA Division II state softball tournament in Fairbanks. (Sarah Manriquez | For the Juneau Empire)

Mariah Tanuvasa Tuvaifale runs to third base during the championship game against Ketchikan for the ASAA Division II state softball tournament in Fairbanks. (Sarah Manriquez | For the Juneau Empire)

Third time’s the charm: Falcons softball secures third-straight state title

When you’re a team that’s won 20 of your last 21 games, you’re not well acquainted with adversity. So when Thunder Mountain High School softball, a team trying to secure its third straight state title, took a 7-6 loss to Ketchikan in the semifinal of the double-elimination state tournament, it wasn’t clear how they’d respond.

Add in the loss was to your rivals on a walk-off three-run home run on a big stage — life isn’t going to feel very good. The team was “crestfallen,” coach John Boucher said. For a moment, anyway.

The Falcons weren’t eliminated, but they’d have to claw their way out of the loser’s bracket and win three straight to nab the state Division II crown.

They did just that, claiming their third state title in as many years Saturday with two wins over Ketchikan at South Davis Park in Fairbanks. A 14-3 win over Delta Junction and 12-0 and 12-2 wins over Kayhi proved the Falcons were not just highly-skilled, they were also gritty.

Senior Peyton Harp scored the winning run after tagging up on a Megan Dallas fly out to center.

“It felt amazing,” Harp said, to cross the plate knowing her team had just won state.

The Falcons run-ruled Kayhi in the fourth inning. Pitching ace Kyra Jenkins Hayes threw a complete game shutout in the second Kayhi game, allowing six hits, and crucially, retiring the Lady Kings in the top of the fourth with bases loaded.

Jenkins Hayes said the team was fired up after losing to Ketchikan.

“We’ve never really been in that situation the whole season,” Jenkins Hayes said. “We were really upset after that game.”

Thunder Mountain jumped on their opponents in the final game, scoring six runs in the first inning. Burying Ketchikan early was important, Boucher said, as it allowed the Falcons to take any wind out of Kayhi’s sails leftover from the semifinal.

“It was quite a response in terms of facing adversity,” Boucher said. “It shows true championship heart.”

After the landslide first frame, a Harp single in the second scored two. A Gabrielle Scales steal at home and a double from Marissa Tanuvasa Tuvaifale put the game at 11-0 in the third before Harp’s winning tag-up in the next inning.

Nina Fenumiai threw the first game of the doubleheader against Kayhi, allowing seven hits. The Falcons scored early and often in that game as well, putting up four in the first, one in the second, three in the fourth and four in the fifth inning. Maxie Saceda-Hurt recorded a grand slam in that game.

The state championship this year is a banner accomplishment for Thunder Mountain High School and Juneau sports. Not many teams win three state championships in a row.

Boucher has said all year that this group of players is special.

“These girls are just — if you look at the season that we had, the amount of times we’ve run-ruled people, the runs we scored compared to our opponents, the performances of our pitchers — it’s been an unbelievable team,” Boucher said.

Falcons eliminate the Huskies

TMHS had little time to dwell on its loss to Ketchikan. They were back at it less than an hour later in an elimination game with Delta Junction. It seemed to work to their advantage.

Eager to redeem themselves, junior Marissa Tanuvasa Tuvaifale smacked a two-run home run in the first inning.

Saceda-Hurt added to the Falcons’ lead in the very next inning, hitting a three-run home run to center field. Tanuvasa Tuvaifale, Fenumiai and Jenkins Hayes pushed Thunder Mountain’s lead to 10-0 later in the inning.

Dallas gave up three runs on seven hits while striking out two and walking four. Jenkins Hayes closed the game out in the fifth inning, striking out three of the four batters she faced.

Delta pitcher Kelsey Harris allowed 19 hits and 14 runs in five innings.

The game ended after five innings with the Huskies unable to cut into a 14-3 deficit. They were outhit 19-7 in the game.

The TMHS-Ketchikan championship was the sixth consecutive all-Southeast championship in Division II softball.

It was the first time the Lady Kings and Falcons had met in the championship game. TMHS faced JDHS in each of the past two championship games, with the Falcons winning both years.

The Falcons’ program reached a turning point three years ago when the program quadrupled its win total from the year before.

The 2016 season ended with a bang as the Falcons won their first-ever Region V and state championships. TMHS repeated as both Region V and state champions the next year while compiling a 20-2 record.

Despite losing two key players in Alondra Echiverri and Haleigh DiCarlo, the Falcons’ reign over the Southeast Conference continued this season as they finished the regular season at 17-1 against Southeast teams.

The program graduates Rachel Macaulay, Saceda-Hurt, Scales, Harp and Dallas.

Division II state softball champions

2018: Thunder Mountain

2017: Thunder Mountain

2016: Thunder Mountain

2015: Sitka

2014: Juneau-Douglas

• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.

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