As is customary with most baseball championships, the Wasilla Warriors shared a few hugs and smiles before falling to the ground in a pile of joyful humanity dressed in red and white Saturday at Mulcahy Stadium.
Carter Huston sidestepped the scrum of teammates. He lightly tossed his glove in the direction of the freshly minted champions’ dugout and chatted with a well-wisher.
“It’s just not my thing,” Huston said of the dog pile. “I’m not big into celebrating that much.”
Calm and cool, Huston’s command proved stout in the championship game of the state high school baseball tournament. The junior tossed 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to help lead the Warriors to an 8-6 comeback victory over Ketchikan and their first state high school crown in their first title game appearance.
“I was excited for the opportunity because it was state and we never won it before,” Huston said. “I guess I was a little nervous, too. While I started off a little shaky, I was just happy to pitch.”
Huston relieved starter Clayton Boyett with one out in the top of the fourth inning after the Kings took a 6-4 lead with a pair of runs via a walk and a throwing error. After giving up a double to Liam Kiffer, Huston got out of trouble with a strikeout and flyout to right field.
Wasilla answered with four runs in the bottom of the inning, taking the lead for good. All told, Huston threw 42 of his 65 pitches for strikes, allowed two hits, struck out two and walked two.
“I had the adrenaline going but also knew I had to shut down the nervousness and pitch,” he said.
Huston made two relief appearances during the three-day tournament and surrendered one earned run in 4 2/3 innings of work. He joined teammates Clancey O’Donnell (.455 batting average, team-best five RBIs) and Jacob Gilbert (.333 batting average, one earned run in five innings pitched) on the all-tournament team.
“Making it here (to the state tournament) was awesome, but we knew we weren’t done,” Huston said. “We had to finish. We’d worked so hard the entire season.”
Sophomore designated hitter Byson Malave keyed the Warriors’ big fourth inning with his second hit of the game. He laced a double just fair over third base and drove home two runs. Malave made it to third on an outfield fielding error.
“I thought it was foul so I was just jogging to first,” Malave said. “When it was fair, oh no, I got to go. Looking at (head coach Ken Ottinger), he’s like, ‘Go!’ All the way to third? OK.
“My first thought was ‘Wow, I just did that.’”
Kiffer blasted a solo home run and finished with two hits and two RBIs for Ketchikan. He joined senior Wyatt Barajas (.333 tournament batting average) on the all-tournament team.
Barajas was one of five players who in March led Ketchikan to its first state basketball title since 1974. He said the Kings were proud to try to make it to another championship game.
“We had good momentum and lot of guys who had been in this situation,” Barajas said. “The basketball thing really hasn’t set into the town yet. It’s been kind of crazy.
“We all wanted to bring that feeling into this and win. But I guess that didn’t happen.”
Huston gave up one hit in his final three innings of work. O’Donnell made the final put-out on a foul out to first base.
“I knew I just had to throw strikes,” Huston said.
Matt Nevala co-hosts “The Sports Guys” radio show, Saturdays at 11 a.m. on KHAR AM 590 and FM 96.7 (@cbssports590). Find him on social media at @MNevala9.
ASAA/First National Bank Alaska state baseball championships
Wasilla 8, Ketchikan 6, championship
West 10, Chugiak 0, third place
Colony 8, Juneau 1, fourth place
Ivan Tillman, West Anchorage
Benjamin Alley, Colony
Liam Kiffer, Ketchikan
Trystan Costanios, Chugiak
Clancey O’Donnell, Wasilla
Justin Nevells, Chugiak
Kaden Ketchum, Colony
Jacob Gilbert, Wasilla
Brock McCormick, Juneau-Douglas
Luke Langnes, West Anchorage
Wyatt Barajas, Ketchikan
Carter Huston, Wasilla