Over the past three years, the Chugiak High softball team has won 78 games to 27 losses and averaged 26 wins a season.
The Mustangs boast a winning record against every opponent except one over that span with the lone exception being South Anchorage. The Wolverines were looking to claim their third straight Division I state championship heading into Saturday’s action at the 2023 state tournament at Cartee Fields in Anchorage.
After battling back through the losers’ bracket, Chugiak was able to end a two-decades-long title drought dating to 2003 by beating the Wolverines in back-to-back games completing a marathon day.
“South is a very well-coached team and a handful every time we play them,” Chugiak head coach Jim Huber said. “This has been a long time coming. Every year I’m always saying ‘This is the year we’re going to do it’ and for this to finally come to fruition. I’m almost speechless.”
Chugiak proved the third time was indeed the charm by finally besting its rivals after finishing as runner-up to South in each of the past two years.
“We just had the team,” senior second baseman Sophia Fuller said. “They wanted it deep down and they fought. We played five games today and came out hard and with heart.”
The player likely most instrumental to the Mustangs keeping their championship hopes alive and ultimately prevailing was senior pitcher Karlee Transburg, who never left the mound and played five straight complete games.
“We’ve really only had one pitcher and to ride her arm through this whole thing, I can’t say enough about Karlee,” Huber said. “We didn’t have anybody else. We were going to ride her arm until the end and a lot of it was heart.”
Transburg’s Herculean efforts were finally rewarded when freshman first baseman Aubree Sims managed to corral a foul ball for the final out in the bottom of the seventh inning to secure an 8-3 title-clinching win.
“I’ve been preparing to go the distance,” Transburg said. “All the fight we had in us, we put into that inning. We told each other that we had to do it for each other.”
Her twin sister Teal also played a key role in Chugiak’s fairytale triumph with a two-run RBI double in the top of the fourth and she brought home the team’s final run in the top of the seventh.
“I’m really proud of her,” Teal said of Karlee. “She has my heart right now like always.”
After reaching the title through the losers’ bracket, Chugiak had to beat South twice to earn the title in the double-elimination format.
In the first game, the Mustangs couldn’t have gotten off to a better start after establishing an early 4-0 lead thanks to both Fuller and Teal Transburg who had a hand all four of the runs.
“We were so tired but had to keep that momentum going,” Fuller said. “As long as we were getting our outs and handling the bases, we knew we were going to be OK.”
They would build their lead to 9-2 through five innings but were in jeopardy of losing a third straight state championship after allowing the Wolverines to rattle off six runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to cut their lead to one heading into the seventh.
“We all really wanted this and were tired of losing,” Karlee Transburg said.
Chugiak was able to prevent South from completing a rally to force an if-necessary game with a 9-8 victory but wouldn’t be crowned champion until just under 90 minutes before midnight.
“I think that’s the hardest that we’ve all ever pushed in our lives,” Teal Transburg said.
In addition to winning the state championship trophy, the Mustangs pulled off quite the impressive triple crown as they were also the recipients of the academic and sportsmanship awards for the second year in a row.
“I love it,” said Huber. “That tells us something about this group of girls. To go out on a high like this is fun.”
Juneau-Douglas comes full circle with triumph over Sitka
The Division II championship game was the first title tilt of the day and unlike in Division I, it didn’t require an if-needed game because Juneau-Douglas took care of business against Sitka in a 6-5 victory.
“This is what we’ve been looking forward to and hoping for since regions last year and we lost,” senior catcher Anna Dale said. “That’s not how we wanted it to go or how we wanted this season to end either. Since the beginning we’ve had that fire inside of us.”
The Crimson Bears missed the state tournament last year after winning the state title in 2021 and are glad to be back on top after capping off a resurgent season with their second state title in the last three years.
“It was a hard year because last year I knew we had the team that could win but we just didn’t put things together,” Juneau-Douglas head coach Lexie Razor said. “This year they really worked hard. They left it all out here and did everything they needed to win.”
Following a scoreless opening inning, junior pitcher and first baseman Mila Hargrave hit the first of her two solo home runs of the game over the center-field fence in the bottom of the second to give the Crimson Bears the early lead.
“Our hitting was really good today, so it carried us through the game,” she said. “I was really proud of my hitting. I definitely was tired from my pitching, but I think I did a pretty good job considering how much I’ve thrown today.”
Juneau-Douglas extended its lead to 4-0 thanks to a three-run homer from freshman utility player Gwen Nizich to close out the explosive inning.
“She did really great, and it was exciting to see her get to play with so many great seniors,” Razor said.
Sitka got on the board in the top of the fifth when Alina Lebahn hit a solo homer over left field. Kaelynn Balovich would cut the Crimson Bears’ lead to one run after hitting a two-run single.
Lebahn later knotted the game up on an RBI that brought Adriana Denkiner home but Hargrave’s second solo homer in the bottom of the sixth broke the 4-4 tie heading into the seventh.
The Wolves managed to tie the game again after Dalila Calahan scored on an error in the top of the seventh, but Dale secured the walk-off victory in her final high-school softball game when she recorded the RBI single needed to bring Nizich home.
“I knew we were in a good spot with our batters in the lineup,” Razor said. “It was a lot of pressure on some of them, but I’m super proud of Anna because last year she had that opportunity a couple times and it didn’t work. Having her be able to do that today and win state on that is pretty exciting.”
ASAA Division I state softball tournament
Thursday (Pool Play)
Chugiak 10, Colony 2
Chugiak 15, Service 2
Service 10, Colony 8
South Anchorage 10, West Valley 0
Bettye Davis East 21, West Valley 0
Bettye Davis East 4, South Anchorage 3
South 16, Colony 0
Service 10, West Valley 2
Bettye Davis East (bye)
South 11, Chugiak 3
Bettye Davis East 15, Service 0
Colony 10, Service 2
Chugiak 17, West Valley 0
South 6, Bettye Davis East 0
Chugiak 16, Colony 1
Chugiak 11, East 7
Chugiak 9, South 8
Chugiak 8, South 3
ASAA Division II state softball tournament
Thursday (Pool Play)
Juneau-Douglas 9, Kodiak 1
North Pole 22, Kodiak 4
North Pole 5, Juneau-Douglas 3
Delta Junction 9, Sitka 1
Sitka 20, Kenai Central 8
Delta Junction 13, Kenai Central 0
Kodiak 8, Sitka 6
Juneau-Douglas 9, Kenai Central 0
North Pole (bye)
Delta Junction (bye)
North Pole 8, Kodiak 7
Juneau-Douglas 11, Delta Junction 3
Sitka 9, Delta Junction 1
Kodiak 13, Kenai Central 5
Juneau-Douglas 4, North Pole 1
Sitka 9, Kodiak 1
Sitka 14, North Pole 13
Juneau-Douglas 6, Sitka 5