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By SPENCER GLEASON
Daily News Sports Editor
It was never easy. But why would it be? That rollercoaster ride is part of the fun in the game of baseball.
Sure, the Ketchikan High School Kings had the best-overall conference record, at 11-1, during the regular season. But in reality, the Kings have had a tough road since entering the Region V tournament.
Beginning with the back-and-forth affair with Juneau-Douglas High School in the regional semifinal game on May 24, it’s been non-stop tests for the Kings.
Kayhi dropped that game, forcing itself to win three games in one day to claim a region title — three games in dirt and dust, with the sun beating down.
The Kings swept those three games, outscoring their competition 45-10.
And the top-seed from Southeast Alaska meant the Kings would travel nearly 800 miles to Anchorage, and play first thing Thursday morning as the “visiting” team because of a coin-toss.
That 11-1 conference record didn’t mean anything, now.
But for this group of Kings, that was no problem. Kayhi beat Colony High School 9-3 on Thursday, and the win landed the Kings in the state semifinal for the second straight season.
But this year had a different outcome.
The Kings came from behind on Friday to beat the West Anchorage High School Eagles 7-6 in the seven-inning matchup at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage.
And they’ll play Wasilla High School for the state championship on Saturday. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m.
Wasilla beat Chugiak High School 13-1 in its semifinal game.
“These kids are pretty battle-tested,” Kayhi coach Andy Berntson said of his Kings. “We’ve stepped on our own foot a couple times — we did today. But we found a way to bounce back each time. That’s baseball. Those things will happen.”
And those things did happen during Friday’s state semifinal game.
On the very first pitch in the bottom of the first inning, West Anchorage’s leadoff batter was plunked.
In fact, the Eagles’ Shawn Jones was hit twice in the game — neither was intentional, of course, as pitches sailed away.
But the free passes, including six walks by Kayhi pitching, and two Eagles reaching base by way of fielding mistakes, gave West Anchorage a boost. And the Eagles soared to a 5-1 lead in the fifth inning.
“We were pretty disappointed with how we set ourselves back,” Berntson said. “It was nice to see (us) battle back.”
The Kings responded with four runs in the top half of the sixth, tying the game 5-5.
Kayhi’s Cody Kemble led off with a single. He eventually scored on a ball to the backstop, and the Kings scored all four runs with two outs.
West Anchorage broke away once more, 6-5, in the bottom of the sixth.
But down to their last three outs, the Kings battled back once more.
Gavin Salazar worked an eight-pitch leadoff walk. And the baseball omen of walking the leadoff batter rang true.
“That was an awesome AB,” Berntson said.
The Kings plated two, to take a 7-6 lead. And Kemble shut the door in the bottom half, tossing a 1-2-3 inning. He struck out the final out as an exclamation point.
Kemble won’t get much time to thrive in the glory, however.
The Kayhi senior has a game to start tomorrow.
“You’re playing good teams every day,” Berntson said. “You keep it in perspective, and enjoy the moment for what it is.”
First pitch for the state championship is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Saturday. ASAA opted to move the game up an hour from the original time listed on tournament brackets after the state tournament began.
Not in Anchorage?
Friends and family can witness Kayhi history as the state championship game will be livestreamed on AlaskaLegion.com.