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By A.J. JANKOWSKI
Daily News Sports Editor
From a diving catch in center field in the first inning to a three-run rally in the final frame, the Ketchikan Little League All-Stars left it all on the diamond Saturday in the District 2 Major League semifinals against Juneau in Wrangell.
While the team came up short on the scoreboard — losing 7-5 — manager Cade King beamed with pride when talking of his squad’s accomplishments.
"I’m really proud of the boys and how they played," King said. "They never gave up. They played together as a team until the end."
Ketchikan prolonged the end as long as it could, trailing 7-2 at the start of the final inning, when the youngest player on the team started a rally that came within inches of resulting in a tie game.
Kris Pihl — the only 11-year-old on the roster — hit a one-out single to give Ketchikan its first baserunner in the top of the sixth. Following the second out of the inning, Gavin Salazar singled and Michael Starr doubled to drive in both runners.
Brock King kept the rally alive with his third hit of the day — a single — to bring Griffin Effenberger to the plate.
Effenberger — who showed off his power when he won Friday’s Home Run Derby — nearly tied the game with a three-run shot, but the ball hit off the wall for an RBI double.
"That thing was no more than a foot from going over the fence," King said. "Our boys made that game really exciting to the end."
Ketchikan’s next batter grounded out to end the game and the season.
"We told them that this is not the end of the road because these kids will see Juneau many, many more times," King said.
Juneau jumped out to an early lead, scoring three runs in the first inning. That number would have been higher if not for a highlight-reel catch by Cody Kemble, who sacrificed his body by laying out in center field to rob the Juneau batter of an extra-base hit.
Kemble then led off the next inning, and promptly hit a solo home run to rouse the Ketchikan bench and the large contingent of First City fans who traveled north for the tournament.
"That kept our spirits in the game," said King of the homer. "It just let everyone know that we’re going to keep playing into the final out."
Effenberger started the game on the mound, striking out three in 3 2/3 innings. Starr pitched 1 1/3 innings in relief, and also struck out three.
Juneau advanced to the championship game Sunday, where it faced top-seeded Sitka — and plenty of supporters.
"Sitka was pulling for us, and we were pulling for them," King said. "After the championship, the Sitka team came up and thanked us for cheering them on."
Sitka won the final, 5-1, and will stay in Wrangell this week to face the top All-Star team from up north.
NOTE: In addition to Effenberger’s victory in the Home Run Derby, Ketchikan also won first place in the Around the Horn competition Friday. Seven players from each All-Star team had two minutes to successfully throw the ball from base to base, with the number of times it crossed home plate serving as the score. Effenberger hit three home runs to win the Derby.