For the East softball team, winning 26 straight games and capping an undefeated season with a second straight large-school state championship came with its share of emotions.
"I was breaking down in tears," said East pitcher Sydney Smith. "I love the game so much, I was crying."
Smith pitched a complete game in the championship, a 10-2 win over Lathrop at Cartee Fields, where East had to beat The Malemutes twice to claim the crown Saturday.
Both teams started the day undefeated, with the tournament's double-elimination format pitting them against each other in the morning. The Thunderbirds (26-0) prevailed 6-5 in the early game to advance to the championship. Lathrop (21-2) dropped into the losers bracket, where it beat Juneau 7-6 to earn another shot at East.
To win it all, Lathrop needed to beat East twice consecutively in the afternoon, but that scenario became all but moot in the bottom of the fourth inning, when East erupted for seven runs. The rally, highlighted by a three-run double from Taria Page, turned a 2-2 tie into a 9-2 East advantage.
East had already taken a 3-2 lead when the imposing Page stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. Page already had one hit to show for two scorching grounders in her previous two at-bats, and she gave East a 6-2 lead when she ripped another hard grounder up the middle that rolled all the way to the center-field fence before anyone from Lathrop could get a hand on it. Morgan Hill, Carrie Sauerbrey and Smith all drove in runs to complete the outburst.
Page drew a walk in her next at-bat and came around to score on a single from Hill in the bottom of the sixth, bringing a mercy rule into effect and ending the game.
"After the first game we played with them, it was really nerve-wracking," Sauerbrey said. "Everyone's emotions were just nervous and excited."
Sauerbrey and Marissa Davidson were the only seniors on a team with four freshmen, five sophomores and two juniors, so playing their last game with the Thunderbirds contributed to an emotional day.
"This is a young team and they are gonna go far in the next two or three years," Davidson said. "We just knew that we wanted to come undefeated and we have a lot of strong players. We have faith in our team, that's what it comes down to."
East coach Paul Schoenborn showed faith in his offense's ability to score when he told Smith to intentionally walk in a tying run in the third inning. East led 1-0 in the top of the third when Lathrop loaded the bases with no outs and Kacey Duffield coming to the plate. Duffield had already been intentionally walked in her first at-bat and East didn't hesitate to walk her again.
"Paul, he knows what he's talking about," Smith said. "Kacey is a big hitter, so I knew if we walked her, we'd be able to get the next couple outs. I wasn't really worried about it, 'cause I trust him."
Duffield's walk brought Yvonne Sam home to tie the score at 1-1, and a hit from Salena Maxwell brought in another run to give the Malemutes a 2-1 lead. The lead was short-lived. East bounced right back to tie it at 2-2 on an RBI-double from Hill in the bottom of the third.
"East Anchorage, they're not defending state champion for no reason, they're a classy, tough team," Lathrop coach Bill Duffield said.
East was the only team to notch wins against Lathrop, which came into the state tournament on a 20-game winning streak and had won the Railbelt Conference for the first time in school history.
"I just can't be more proud of a group of girls," Bill Duffield said. "We were thinking about a conference and a state championship and we got one out of the two. I can't complain about that."
Four-peat for Sitka
Sitka didn't run into many obstacles on its way to a fourth straight small-schools softball championship, at least not until Ketchikan made things tough on the Wolves in Saturday's championship game at Cartee Fields.
Sitka (20-4), which won by at least four runs in its three previous tournament games, escaped with a 7-6 win in the title game, breaking a 6-6 tie with a run in the seventh and final inning.
The win was Sitka's second over Ketchikan (16-7) on Saturday. The Wolves won a morning game 12-8 to send Ketchikan to the losers bracket, but the Kings stayed alive with a 9-0 thumping of Homer.
Had Ketchikan found a way to beat Sitka in the championship game, an if-necessary game would have ensued to determine a champion.
Sitka's championship run also included a 13-5 win over Kodiak in the first round, a 16-1 win over Eielson. The Wolves, who also won a state title in 2005, have reached the small-school state title game for five straight seasons.
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS