Before the ASAA state tournament began on Thursday, the Ketchikan High School Lady Kings softball team had played only six games.
Three games in April, and three games in May.
But it’s what happened between those two three-game sets, in a six-week span, that help set this group of Lady Kings apart from all of the others.
And it’s what they accomplished, in the face of adversity, since stepping foot back on the field — despite their 13-12 loss against Juneau-Douglas and 10-2 loss North Pole high schools on Saturday — that speaks volumes to the people they are.
While other communities throughout the state had, for the most part, contained the novel coronavirus, the community of Ketchikan struggled against COVID-19 from late-April through mid-May.
Kayhi wasn’t allowed on the softball field during that time, and the Lady Kings didn’t know when — or if — they’d be allowed to play a game again this season.
“It definitely made them stronger,” Kayhi head coach Kalea Allen said last Tuesday, before the team left for the state tournament in Anchorage. “Tough times make tougher people, and we definitely believe in that. Because we’ve had to be tougher than anyone in our conference — and probably in our state. I don’t know if anyone in our state went into their region tournament with as few games as we did.
“So they definitely had to stay mentally tough, and stay together,” she said.
A pair of life lessons sports can teach.
And in ‘First City’ fashion, the Lady Kings’ toughness is unmatched.
The team swept their three games during the Region V tournament — including two matchups against the eventual state champion Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears. The region tournament was the Lady Kings’ only set of games in May.
And after a month away from the softball field, Kayhi not only won a Region V championship, but claimed the region’s top seed in the state tournament.
“This season is definitely nothing that the girls should hang their heads on,” Allen said after returning home from Anchorage on Sunday. “They should be proud of all the wins — and even the losses — that we put out there. I mean, 9-2 is a great record for the (season) that we could have.
“And to know that the state champion is someone that we beat twice — like, you’ve to acknowledge that, too. Because in the regular season, you’re going to play each other six times.
“We only got to face each other three times,” she continued. “... With only having three games in April, three games in May — and the state tournament in June — I mean we were going into high-pressure situations on (the) big stage, with little to no game experience under our belt, and we performed amazing for those circumstances, for sure.”
That, they did.
Because after defeating Delta Junction High School 7-6, and Kodiak High School 13-5, in pool-play on Thursday, Kayhi was awarded the top-seed in the state tournament.
With a first-round bye, the Lady Kings only played one game Friday, beating Homer High School 12-10.
And after Juneau-Douglas — who was given Region V’s No. 2 seed, and a state tournament berth — defeated Homer High School 15-4 in its Friday matchup, the two Southeast schools were lined up for a state semifinal showdown.
Right off the bat, the two Southeast rivals put the pressure on each other during Saturday’s matchup. And the two schools never let their foot off the gas pedal for seven innings — complete with a game-tying home run by Shaelyn Mendoza in the top of the seventh, and Juneau-Douglas walking it off, 13-12, in the bottom half.
Kayhi’s Kenzie Pahang hit her third home run in as many days in the first inning against Juneau-Douglas on Saturday.
But Juneau-Douglas did some damage at the plate, as well, and after two innings, the semifinal game was knotted up, 4-4.
Both teams scored a pair apiece in the third inning, too.
Kayhi’s Dyllan Borer and Reilly McCue each scored in the top half.
Borer, who reached on a walk, moved to second base after a base hit by Hannah Moody. McCue came in as a courtesy runner for Moody.
Borer and McCue crossed the dish after Gabby Mas ripped a two-RBI single into right field.
But that 6-4 lead was brief.
Juneau-Douglas’ Tristan Oliva and Chloe Casperson each scored in the bottom half to tie it up again, 6-6.
“We had to bring that energy for all seven innings of that first semifinal game against Juneau,” Allen said. “So we we wanted that game, for sure. We fought ‘til the very end. It was a hard fought game on both sides.”
Kayhi had an 11-7 lead as Juneau-Douglas came to the plate in the bottom of the sixth.
Ahead, 8-7, the Lady Kings’ Rylie Welk, Mendoza and Nyah Edenshaw all strung hits together in the top half.
All three scored in the inning, too.
Edenshaw drove in Welk, after Mendoza hit a standup double to deep left-center field, putting runners at second and third.
Borer drove in Mendoza on a groundout, and Mas knocked in Edenshaw with her third hit of the game.
Mas, who didn’t start the game, was subbed in the third inning and finished the day 3-for-3 with three singles and three RBIs.
Kayhi needed all 11 runs, as Juneau-Douglas jumped ahead, 12-11, in the bottom of the sixth inning.
The Crimson Bears sent 10 batters to the plate, and scored five runs in the frame.
That set up Mendoza’s magical shot to straightaway center field — a two-strike blast tying the game 12-12, and giving the Lady Kings some life.
“Shae’s (home run) was clutch,” Allen said. “I knew a hit was coming. I could see it in her eyes. She wanted to get on base so bad, and she wasn’t ready to (go down). Everyone was fighting, but every time we needed (solid) defense or a solid at-bat, she stepped up and delivered all day that day.
Down to the team’s final strike in the semifinal matchup, Mendoza delivered again.
“That home run was the cherry on top,” Allen continued. “I’m really glad she got that. She really deserved that. She’s been working hard.
“We’ve been working with her batting. ... She’s so solid, and she has a lot of power, and when it connects right, it’s going to go far.”
But the one run was all Kayhi could muster in the frame against Juneau-Douglas, and the Crimson Bears walked it off in the bottom half.
A leadoff triple, followed by a base hit, did in Kayhi, giving Juneau-Douglas its 13-12 win.
The Lady Kings weren’t out of the state’s double-elimination tournament, as they had to rush into a consolation game against North Pole.
But Kayhi’s energy was drained. And North Pole beat Kayhi 10-2 via the run rule in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Led by Lyla Murrah and Alicia Guzman, the North Pole Patriots — who had scored a combined 46 runs in their previous two games during the state tournament — kept their offense rolling against Kayhi.
Murrah hit two home runs, and Guzman was 3-for-4, with a single, double and triple.
“After the first loss, it’s always hard,” Allen said. “Usually you (get) your first loss during the regular season and you just kind of bounce back from it, and learn how to play after a defeat.
“And since we didn’t get that opportunity, we had to figure out how to do that when the pressure was high — and it’s the third day of the tournament; we’re already getting tired, and doing whatever we can to find energy.”
After nine straight wins — across three months — the Lady Kings’ roller coaster of a season was done.
“It was an emotional ending,” Allen said. “But we all reminded each other of how far we’ve come — to not have a season last year, and to have a shortened season this year. To make it all the way to the state tournament, and have a chance to win the state title is huge in itself.
“This is a great group of girls,” she continued. “... No other group of girls could’ve gone through all the ups and downs that we went through this year.”
Mendoza and Boehlert honored
Kayhi’s Shaelyn Mendoza and Paige Boehlert were named to the All-Tournament team on Saturday. Coaches from the high school teams represented at the ASAA state tournament vote for players based on their performance during the tournament.