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By A.J. JANKOWSKI
Daily News Sports Editor
The opportunities were there for the taking, but Ketchikan couldn’t cash in.
Juneau strung together hits when it mattered most, and will leave Sitka with a championship trophy.
The 13-14-year-old Ketchikan Little League All-Stars dropped an 8-2 decision to Juneau Friday, which clinched the District 2 Junior League title for the team from Alaska’s capital.
"A lot of the time baseball is about timely hitting," said Ketchikan manager Jeff Carson. "We didn’t have any timely hitting tonight."
Juneau broke the 2-2 game open in the sixth, when the first three hitters reached base and the team plated five runs before the first out was recorded.
"Juneau is a very disciplined team, and they don’t swing at much out of the zone," said Carson, whose team yielded one more run in the inning. "Once the walks started piling up, we were in trouble."
Needing six runs to extend the game, Luke Jones led off the seventh with a bunt single for Ketchikan. Jake Smith followed with a fielder’s choice, leaving Smith on first with one out. Jack Carson singled to left field to put two runners on, but Shawn Sande hit into a fielder’s choice and Breton Zeman grounded out to first to end the game.
Ketchikan needed to win Friday to force a Game 3 Saturday, but instead Juneau swept the series and will head back to Sitka in a week to play for a state championship.
"The kids are pretty upset," Jeff Carson said. "They invested a lot of time into this — about 2-4 hours a day for the last three weeks. But I have no doubt that they’ll get over it."
Juneau won Game 1 Thursday by a 19-6 score — helped in large part to an early 9-0 lead through two innings.
It had no such early luck against Ketchikan Friday, as Smith started on the mound and didn’t allow more than one hit in an inning until the fifth inning — the final inning he threw.
"He threw a lot of strikes and he pitched a great game," Carson said. "With someone as good as Jake, you want to get six or seven innings out of him, but that just didn’t happen. With a pitch count, you’ve got to be more efficient."
While Smith held Juneau at bay, Ketchikan built a lead, but it wasn’t nearly as large as it could have been.
The All-Stars stranded five runners on base in the first two innings, including loading the bases in the second with no outs, and managing just one run.
"We should have been up 6-0 after two," Carson said. "As a coach, you know that when you miss those opportunities, they’re going to come back to bite you."
Jones hit a sacrifice fly to center field to score Jordan Sader for the game’s first run, and Smith made it 2-0 in the fifth, scoring all the way from first on a Sande bunt coupled with a Juneau throwing error.
Juneau tied the game off Smith in the home half of the fifth on a sacrifice bunt and an RBI single to left field.
Smith finished with four strikeouts and five walks in 4 2/3 innings. Zeman got the final out of the fifth, but struggled to find the strike zone in the sixth, being pulled after Juneau’s first five batters of the inning reached base.
In all, Juneau’s first nine hitters of the sixth reached base, with the first out occurring on a throw to home plate. Alec Simmons struck out a batter and got a fly-out to center field to end the inning.
The All-Stars didn’t commit an error in the loss — a vast improvement from Thursday’s blowout, when 16 of Juneau’s 19 runs were unearned.
"We talked about that before the game (Friday)," Carson said. "We said that win or lose, we wanted to leave the field with our heads held high and knowing that we played a better game than (Thursday).
"And that was the case."