In the three days during the Region V tournament last weekend in Juneau, the Ketchikan High School Lady Kings doubled their number of games played this season — totaling six over a six-week span.
Sounds more like a football schedule.
Alas, that’s softball in Ketchikan during the days of the novel coronavirus — one year after the pandemic began.
But even while the First City was among the worst places to be in the state, in regards to COVID-19, throughout late-April and the month of May, the Lady Kings made their limited time on the softball field count.
And now they sit just a few wins away from a state championship.
The 6-0 Lady Kings begin their quest for a state title on Thursday, starting with a pair of pool-play games against Delta Junction and Kodiak high schools.
First pitch against Delta Junction is set for 10 a.m. Thursday. First pitch against Kodiak is scheduled for 2:45 p.m. Thursday.
Both games will be broadcast on KTKN radio.
“It’s been unpredictable,” Kayhi head coach Kalea Allen said about the season — or lack thereof — before Tuesday’s practice. “These girls are determined to keep playing and keep winning, and keep putting the best (lineup) we can on the field.
“It’s kind of interesting because even at regions we were putting new (lineups) on the field that we haven’t put together before,” she continued. “And we we’re still coming out on top. So it’s really fun to see.”
Indeed, the Lady Kings mixed and matched their lineups all three games of the Region V tournament, allowing different players opportunities to succeed on different days.
Kayhi junior Hannah Moody tossed a complete game in the Region V semifinal — a 6-4 win over Juneau-Douglas High School on May 28.
The Lady Kings’ Kelleigh Nickich did the same in the Region V championship — a 13-9 victory on May 29 — throwing a complete game against Juneau-Douglas in the double-elimination tournament.
Kayhi pitcher Kenzie Pahang came in relief of Moody in Kayhi’s 6-5 win over Thunder Mountain High School in the Region V quarterfinal.
“What’s one thing that’s fun with this (group of) pitchers, is that we have different ones to go to,” Allen said. “We don’t just rely on one pitcher. So the nice thing about that, when we’re facing a team more than one time, is if we can keep them from seeing all of our pitchers, then we can throw a little screwball to them.
“They don’t know each of our pitchers, so it’s going to throw them off at the plate a little bit more,” she continued. “And that’s kind of what we did at regions. We knew it looked like we were going to face JD at the end, so we were trying to rely on what pitchers we were using throughout, and then we had Kelleigh go in there, and show them something different.”
But even at the plate, the Lady Kings relied on different hitters.
They sent 11 batters to the plate in the fifth inning of the championship game.
Dyllan Borer, Pahang, Gabby Mas, Nickich, Paige Boehlert, Rylie Welk, Shaelyn Mendoza and Nyah Edenshaw all reached base in the frame, helping the Lady Kings score six runs in one half-inning.
Kayhi’s Maggie Boehlert and Lyla Seludo both had base hits during a Lady Kings’ rally in the quarterfinal win over Thunder Mountain, too.
But it’s the mental toughness that this group of Lady Kings has that Allen sees as its best strength entering the ASAA state tournament.
Not too many other teams — if any — in the Division II tournament have had to deal with the number of ups and downs this group has had in the past month and a half.
Three games in April and three games in May. That’s it.
In between were weeks of let-downs, as games were canceled due to the community’s risk of COVID-19.
“It definitely made them stronger,” Allen said. “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.”
While the Lady Kings were left out, both softball teams in Juneau, as well as Sitka High School, were able to play, as their communities were not struggling to contain COVID-19, like Ketchikan was.
“It was hard — for everyone,” Allen said. “We all tried to stay as positive and optimistic as we could. But it almost seemed harder than last year.
“Last year, you go into it — and we hadn’t even had try-outs yet — and they said, ‘Hey, there’s not going to be a season.’”
The entire 2020 season was canceled due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I mean, that was tough to swallow then,” she continued. “But this year, knowing that we can have a season, and then each day not knowing if it’s going to happen — it was almost tougher to swallow. We could see it with the girls. They didn’t want to get their hopes up. They were tired of being let down. It was emotionally draining.”
But now they get to play.
And this group of Lady Kings is not letting anything stand in their way.
“It seems like they have a good groove going,” Allen said. “... It kind of feels like we’re proving a point. You don’t have to play the most games and ... really, you don’t have to play softball every day to be the best out there.
“Softball is such a mental game,” she continued, “that having to be mentally tough, almost conditioned us to be ready for situations like these.”