Basking in splendid sunlight early Saturday evening, the Juneau-Douglas baseball team utilized one final dose of small ball as the sun set on another year of Alaska high school sports.
The Crimson Bears scratched across a run in the top of the seventh inning at Mulcahy Stadium and held on to topple the South Wolverines 3-2 in the state tournament title tilt.
With the victory, Juneau earned a record sixth championship since the Alaska School Activities Association sanctioned a state baseball tournament in 2000. The school's last title came in 2012.
"Juneau is a special place and we've all been able to grow up together," said Crimson Bears senior Kasey Watts, who picked up the pitching victory and laid down a pressure-packed sacrifice bunt to set up the game-winning run in the seventh.
"We just have this childhood chemistry and connection. It's always been a well-rounded group of friends who trust one another."
Juneau's baseball victory in Anchorage and softball championship for East and Thunder Mountain in Fairbanks capped the 2017-18 high school sports year. Things get quiet until fall sports teams begin practicing July 25 — all of 52 days from now.
Saturday's game between Juneau and South was tight from start to finish. With the score tied 2-2 going into the final inning, Crimson Bears senior catcher Michael Cesar was hit by a pitch from South's Jacob Woodall to lead things off.
Watts came to the plate next. He'd gone 2 for 2 with a walk in his first three plate appearances. He bunted the ball back to Woodall to move Cesar into scoring position.
"I was feeling pretty good and you're thinking how you'd really like to hit the ball there," Watts said. "I knew I had to lay down the bunt, but sure it would have been nice to get that hero RBI.
"But this isn't a team of heroes. We're teammates. I knew Luke (Mallinger) would come through for us."
Mallinger, Juneau's senior third baseman, smacked Woodall's second offering up the middle to plate Cesar and give his team the one-run lead. Mallinger's heroics helped him land on the all-tournament team for a second consecutive season.
"It doesn't get much better," he said. "I knew I had to go up there and do my job.
"Once I leveled through the ball and we had the run in, I immediately thought about who South had coming up in the ninth. It's such a good team over there and we have so much respect for those guys."
With the 3-2 lead, Watts moved to first base defensively after pitching the first six innings. He allowed two hits, struck out three and walked. Donavin McCurley moved from second base to the pitching mound and secured the save, but not without some drama.
South's Luke Griffin led off the bottom of the seventh with a walk and Lian Lincoln bunted him to second. But McCurley struck out South's Reid Brock before coaxing Josh Costello into lining out to center fielder Luis Mojica.
Then came a joyous Crimson Bears dog pile just behind the pitcher's mound.
"These guys did such a great job," said Juneau coach Chad Bentz, a former Major League Baseball relief pitcher and one of 12 Alaska-born players to make it to the majors. "We played a great program in South and fought our way through it.
"Thankfully, we were able to get that timely hit when we needed it most."
Woodall finished as the tough-luck losing pitcher, giving up eight hits and three earned runs while striking out five, walking three and hitting three batters. Lincoln finished 1 for 2 with two runs, a walk and the sacrifice bunt in the seventh.
"When it comes down to championship games, runs tend to be hard to come by," he said. "You've got to break things down and make them simple.
"Unfortunately, Juneau was able to execute just a little bit better than us."
The Wolverines have reason to hold their heads high. Saturday's championship game appearance was the program's sixth straight and seventh in eight seasons. South lost to Sitka last season. It won state titles in 2011, 2013 and 2016 and finished second 2014 and 2015.
A senior, Lincoln said he hopes the Wolverines continue to build on all of that success.
"Make the most of every opportunity," he said. "You never know when the next one is coming."
Ketchikan 7, Colony 1 (3rd place)
Cody Kemble struck out 10 batters and drove in two runs to spark Ketchikan's 7-1 victory over Colony in the third-place game.
Kemble scattered four hits in a seven-inning, complete-game effort. He helped his cause with two hits in four at-bats. Wyatt Barajas provided the Kings with three hits and two RBIs.
Colony got a two-hit performance from Carson McLaughlin.
Chugiak 14, Palmer 4 (4th place)
Chugiak racked up 16 hits, eight for extra bases, to claim fourth place with a 14-4 rout of Palmer.
Christian Cambridge smacked a home run and a triple to lead the Mustangs. Brian Wing was 3 for 4 with three RBIs and Ian Frizelle furnished three hits and three runs.
Alasdair McKechnie and Anthony Jones had two hits apiece to lead Palmer's nine-hit attack.
ASAA/First National Bank Alaska state baseball championships
Cade Holland, Palmer
Michael Starr, Ketchikan
Gage Webster, South
Walker Stuart, North Pole
Kolten Ketchum, Colony
Luke Griffin, South
Donavin McCurley, Juneau-Douglas
Josh Costello, South
DJ Davis, Chugiak
Michael Cesar, Juneau-Douglas
Wyatt Barajas, Ketchikan
Luke Mallinger, Juneau-Douglas