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Kings place second in state tournament
The Kings’ Cody Kemble, left, and Kristian Pihl celebrate a play during the state championship baseball game against the Wasilla High School Warriors on Saturday at Mulcahy Stadium. Ketchikan High School was the state runner-up after falling to Wasilla, 8-6. Photo by Loren Holmes/ADN

Daily News Sports Editor

Baseball is humbling sometimes.

A bad break, a bad bounce or just bad luck can, in many ways, make or break a season just like a favorable bounce can — or even good luck.

Hitting streaks or hitting slumps, pitching effectively or playing out of sync, a team generates its momentum. And it carries that energy as far as it can — playing as deep into the season as it possibly can go.

Until one day, it’s all over.

The Ketchikan High School Kings might not have won a state championship on Saturday. But as one of the final two teams playing at Mulcahy Stadium in the ASAA state tournament, the Kings pushed their season as far as they could.

But Kayhi came up just short against the Wasilla High School Warriors, falling 8-6 in the state championship game.

“No one’s happy with second place,” Kayhi coach Andy Berntson said. “But the effort certainly wasn’t second place. These guys gave it everything they had.”

It was the Warriors first state title. Kayhi won third place last season.

“I thought we matched up with (Wasilla) really well, and I assume they’d say the same thing,” Berntson said. “We put pressure on them, and visa versa. If we make a handful of plays, it might be a different (outcome).”

For the first 2 1/2 innings, the Kings were in control.

Kayhi jumped out on top 2-0 after Gavin Salazar knocked in Brock King and Wyatt Barajas.

Wasilla scored in its share of the second inning, cutting Kayhi’s lead in half, but the Kings’ Liam Kiffer got that run back with a lead off home run in the top of the third.

Kiffer cranked a 1-0 pitch over the left field wall, sending Kayhi’s dugout into a frenzy.

“That was one of the hardest hit balls I’ve ever seen,” Berntson said.

It was the only home run from any team during the state tournament.

“Liam wasn’t happy with his first at-bat,” Berntson said. “But you rarely (get him) twice. I was excited to see what he was going to do that at-bat. And he didn’t disappoint.”

Kayhi tacked on one more, stretching its lead to 4-1. But then the wheels came off.

Wasilla plated three runs in the bottom of the third. A bunt single, botched ground ball and a hit batsman loaded the bases for the Warriors before an out was recorded. And all three came around to score.

Wasilla scored four more in the fourth, solidifying the 8-6 final.

“(We) came out like I had hoped,” Berntson said. “But then we began burying ourself in a hole, defensively.”

Kayhi uncharacteristically commited a pair of errors, and hit four Warriors.

“The kids were playing hard,” Berntson said. “Momentum is huge. You scratch and claw, and try to get things going.”

But no matter what the Kings did afterward, nothing seemed to work.

“We had bursts where we’d hit well,” Berntson said. “And then it kind of flipped on us.”

The Kings were nearly perfect in conference competition this season, going 11-1. And they rallied behind each other to win the Region V championship, and Southeast Alaska’s top seed at the state tournament.

They hit back-to-back home runs a couple times, blasted grand slams and were deep with pitching.

Kayhi was trying to become the third high school to win a state championship in baseketball and baseball in the same school year.

East Anchorage High School did it in 2000. Dimond High School accomplished it in 2009.

“Every group is special in its own way,” Berntson said. “And this group is no different. ... They’re pretty accomplished. We have kids that won state in cheerleading, won state in basketball, and won third-place last year. They’re impossible to replace.”

And that’s what makes the end of a season so difficult.

“The sense of finality is gut-wrenching,” Berntson said. “It’s a sense of loss. It’s hard to see the kids go. ... (This year) was a blast. I’m sure proud of the product.”