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By A.J. JANKOWSKI
Daily News Sports Editor
Ketchikan’s bats provided an early boost, and the pitching took care of the rest as the Major League All-Stars ended round-robin play Thursday in Wrangell by handing Juneau its first loss of the District 2 tournament, 6-5.
"It was pretty special today with the kids," said Ketchikan manager Cade King. "It’s not often that Ketchikan beats Juneau. These kids have been looking forward to this moment for a while."
The game appeared to be headed toward an offensive explosion from the onset, with the teams plating all 11 runs in the first two innings.
But solid pitching and timely defense preserved the lead for Ketchikan, which has won four straight.
"I thought for sure we’d both be over 10 runs," King said. "But our pitchers got on track and did a great job."
Ketchikan’s victory created a logjam atop the district standings, with Juneau, Sitka and the First City each finishing round-robin play with a 4-1 record.
Due to tiebreaker rules, Sitka earned the top seed, Ketchikan the second and Juneau the third. Petersburg was the fourth team to qualify for the semifinals, and will face Sitka Saturday at 3 p.m.
Although a loss Thursday would have landed his team in the No. 2/3-seed matchup, too, King didn’t mince words when saying what the win meant.
"This helps our momentum and our confidence," said King, whose team will face Juneau in the semifinals Saturday at 6 p.m. "It gets the boys believing they can do it."
If Thursday’s game was any indication of what Juneau and Ketchikan will provide Saturday, the fans lining the diamond in Wrangell — and those listening on the radio — are in for a treat.
Juneau jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning, aided by a handful of Ketchikan errors.
"That got me a little worried," King said. "The boys were hanging their heads a little bit heading into the dugout, and sometimes, it’s hard to get back in it when you’re that down."
The heads weren’t down long, as they rose to watch leadoff hitter Michael Starr take a pitch over the outfield fence for a home run.
"That really got the momentum turning our way," said King, whose team scored twice more in the inning to tie the game 3-3. "We were feeling a little bad from the top of the inning, and Mike turned that all around."
Juneau scored two runs in the second on a passed ball and a throwing error, but Ketchikan responded in the exact same fashion to tie the game again.
Still in the bottom of the second, Griffin Effenberger homered to give Ketchikan its first lead of the game.
It also turned out to be the game-winning run.
"I was really happy with our offensive," King said. "That really turned the tide for us, and then our pitching shut everything down."
Wyatt Barajas started on the mound, and struck out two in two innings. Starr came on in relief and rang up five strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings of work.
After Starr walked the first two batters of the fifth, Tug Olson came in and preserved the lead, earning the save by striking out two in 1 2/3 innings.
It wasn’t just pitching, either, as Barajas gunned out Juneau’s Riley Griffin at the plate from left field to end the top of the fifth.
Offensively, Starr finished with a home run and a single, and Effenberger added two singles to go along with his game-winning homer. Olson doubled and singled, and Ketchikan also got singles from Cody Kemble, Kyle Smith and Paul Allmendinger.
JUNIOR LEAGUE TOURNAMENT
Ketchikan yielded six unearned runs in the first inning of Game 1 of the Junior League District 2 championship against Juneau Thursday in Sitka.
Things didn’t get much better.
The defense couldn’t make the easy plays as Juneau poured on the offense — including a seven-run seventh — to win 19-6, and come within one game of winning the district.
"It was painful," said Ketchikan manager Jeff Carson. "I was talking (Wednesday) about how good our defense has played ... and today, it just fell apart."
Ketchikan scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh on a two-run single by Alec Simmons, but it was a case of far too little, far too late.
Starting pitcher Jack Carson lasted 1 1/3 innings before being pulled in the second with the bases loaded in favor of Max Ludwigsen.
Ludwigsen lasted into the seventh inning, when Carson was re-inserted into the game trailing 13-4.
Ketchikan struggled to record the final out, and as the runs kept piling up, Jeff Carson was forced to put one of his final eligible pitchers into the game — Luke Jones.
Jones struck out the only batter he faced to stop the onslaught.
"I told the boys after the game that baseball’s not a fun sport when you play like that," Carson said. "With having a pitch count, if you make two errors in an inning, that’s another 20-30 pitches our pitcher has to throw."
Ketchikan will get Jake Smith, Breton Zeman, Simmons and Shawn Sande back as pitchers Friday, as well as Jackson Pool on Saturday if the All-Stars can force a Game 3.
Simmons finished with the best day at the plate for Ketchikan, recording three singles and 2 RBIs. The All-Stars also got a double from Jack Carson, and singles from Smith, Sande, Zeman, Spencer Erickson, Pool, Jones and Noah King.
Game 2 is Friday at 6 p.m. Ketchikan has to win to force a deciding Game 3 Saturday at 6 p.m.
"I told them that it’s up to them to decide what kind of energy they come back with," Jeff Carson said. "We haven’t had any problem scoring runs and getting hits. We’ve just got to string together some big innings and get back to playing good defense."