A day that dawned with doubt ended in domination Saturday for the relentless force known as the East High softball team.
The Thunderbirds capped a nearly perfect season by cruising to a championship-game victory so resounding that the mercy rule ended the game after 4 1/2 innings.
East blanked defending champion West 8-0 in the title game to complete an undefeated run through the eight-team, double-elimination tournament at Cartee Fields. It outscored opponents 40-4 in four tournament games to finish the season with a 26-1 record.
"There's no stopping us," said Erika Meyerson, one of East's three seniors. "We have such a good team. We're strong everywhere."
Before Saturday's celebration, though, came Friday's fretting.
The T-birds went to bed Friday night worried about a 9:30 a.m. Saturday semifinal clash with West, the team they feared the most.
West is the only team with a win over East this season, a 3-1 victory that came in the semifinals of last week's Cook Inlet Conference tournament. The loss forced the T-birds to come through the loser's bracket to claim the conference title.
"I was tossing and turning all night thinking about playing West," said East pitcher Sydney Smith. "I woke up on my own around 7. I was ready to play. Usually my mom has to drag me out of bed."
Fueled by sophomore Gabby Meyerson (triple, double, two RBIs), the Thunderbirds got past West 5-2 in the morning game to advance to the afternoon championship game.
While East enjoyed a two-hour break, West went right back to work, beating Chugiak 7-2 in the final elimination game to earn another shot at East.
The rematch proved mostly one-sided, thanks to a perfect storm that conspired against the Eagles: West strikeout queen Pauline Tufi struggled with a swollen finger, while East's bats got hot early and stayed hot.
East piled up nine hits, including a pair of doubles in the first inning and an in-the-park home run in the second.
Tufi, the pitching ace/slugger who was the MVP of West's championship team a year ago and its mainstay again this year, was unable to complete two of the three games she started Saturday.
Tufi made it through the first game against East but a swollen ring finger on her pitching hand forced her to move to catcher after one inning in the game against Chugiak. In the championship game, she lasted 2 1/3 innings before the troublesome finger forced her to switch to catcher.
"Something happened to it and it just started swelling up," Tufi said.
Gabby Meyerson got East started by touching Tufi for a leadoff double and scored two outs later on Carrie Sauerbrey's double. Sauerbrey scored from second on a fielding error on Smith's fly ball to right field to give her team a 2-0 lead.
East added two more runs in the second inning, both coming on Vaa Pedro's in-the-park home run. The T-birds sent eight batters to the plate in the third inning and were up 6-0 when they chased Tufi with one out.
"Our bats were really working today," said Smith, a right-hander who faced 22 batters and gave up three hits in the title game for her second win of the day.
Leading the assault for East were Taria Page, a fearsome freshman who had a pair of hits, including a two-run double, and Elise Mitchell, who furnished two hits, two runs and an RBI in her final high school game.
Pedro got her in-the-park homer when her line drive to right field eluded a diving outfielder.
"I didn't know that was gonna happen," said Pedro, a sophomore who has been a member of the last two state champions. She played on West's championship team last season before transferring to East.
If Tufi was down about the loss or her swollen finger, she didn't let on. Posing for pictures with other players who made the all-tournament team, she had the biggest smile and the biggest laugh.
She did admit to one disappointment -- drawing an intentional walk in her final plate appearance.
"It sucks not being able to get pitched to," said Tufi, a junior. "And I don't like doing it, either. I had to walk (Page) earlier today and it was hard."
East coach Paul Schoenborn was apologetic -- sort of -- but said he couldn't take the chance of leaving the bat in Tufi's hands.
"Pauline carried them all year long," he said. "I felt bad walking her, but I wanted somebody else to beat us. She had a home run and a double in our first game."
East and West played each other eight times this season, with East enjoying a 7-1 record.
The familiarity didn't breed contempt, but it did create some confounding scenes. Like the one after game when Tufi and Page posed for photos with arms slung over each other's shoulders like teammates, except Tufi was dressed in the black and orange of West and Page sported the red and blue of East.
If the rivalry seems friendlier than most, it's because it is. Each team draws players from the successful Nunaka Valley Little League, which has sent teams to the World Series in two of the previous three summers.
"We're family off the field, but on the field we're enemies," Tufi said. "We've grown up playing against that team."
A three-peat for Sitka
Sitka's softball team outlasted Homer 14-12 in Saturday's championship game at Cartee Fields to capture its third straight small-schools state championship.
The Wolves beat Homer earlier in the day, 12-8, to advance straight to the title game. Homer bounced back with a 7-5 win over Ketchikan to eliminate the Kings and set up the rematch with Sitka.
In Saturday's other game, Ketchikan beat Eielson 10-5 to oust the Ravens.
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
ASAA/First National Bank
Championship -- East 8, West 0
Semifinal -- East 5, West 2
Chugiak 4, Juneau
West 7, Chugiak 2
Championship -- Sitka 14, Homer 12
Semifinal -- Sitka 12, Homer 8
Ketchikan 10, Eielson 5
Homer 7, Ketchikan 5