Juneau-Douglas, Thunder Mountain Baseball Boys Find Field in Sitka

    Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears and Thunder Mountain Falcons players hope Adair Kennedy Field becomes snow-free soon just like this file photo from an earlier season. (Klas Stolpe)

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The Juneau-Douglas High School Yadaa.at Kalé Crimson Bears and Thunder Mountain High School Falcons finally got their chance to play baseball on a snow-free field at Sitka’s Invitational Round Robin Tournament over the weekend.

      “It was just so much fun being back out on the baseball field playing,” Juneau-Douglas coach Chad Bentz said. “The weather couldn’t have been better. The atmosphere was as good as you could imagine. We were very thankful to have that opportunity to play.”

      Thunder Mountain coach Joe Tompkins also noted the chance to play.

      “The first day was our first day on a field and being outdoors,” Tompkins said. “The second day was our second day being on a field and being outdoors.”

      On Friday, JDHS tied Ketchikan 2-2 after their allotted seven innings of play and were edged out by Sitka 8-5. 

      Games were played to seven innings or within a two-hour time limit, per round robin rules, no matter the score when time ran out.

      Bentz said he was not concerned with statistics on the weekend.

      “Each game was great. Our goal was to try to get in seven innings and for the first time out this season I was very happy as a whole,” he said. “Are there things we can get better at? Absolutely. I told our team that ‘the guys you see on TV, those teams, those individual players, they always have to work at getting better at something, no matter what level you are at.’ We have things to work on.”

      He said that included plate approach and timing in the batters box. He said their defense overall was solid. Against Ketchikan, the Crimson Bears’ pitchers struck out seven batters and walked four. The only error of the Kayhi game was on the last play that allowed the Kings to tie.

      “It was just a throw that was off the mark,” Bentz said. “That was my first-ever tie in my entire baseball career, either as a player or as a coach.”

      After the Sitka loss, Bentz said he told his pitchers, “We can’t defend walks. We want to strike them out or get them out within three pitches or less. It keeps the game going, keeps our defense on their toes.”

      Bentz said the Crimson Bears responded to each advantage Sitka took, telling them, “That is what good baseball teams do. They get punched and they get right back up, that is all we can control…”

      Thunder Mountain High School also fell to Sitka on Friday, 8-4, and to Ketchikan 10-2.

      Against Sitka, Tompkins noted that the Falcons got a quick two runs in the first inning as juniors Preston Williams and Isaiah Nelson singled and senior Oliver Mendoza hit a line drive to bring them home. Mendoza also doubled that duo home in the top of the fourth inning.

       “Our guys were just excited to be playing ball after missing a year,” Tompkins said. “Like I said, we may not be the best but we are always going to be scrappy.”

      Tompkins said his team was not afraid to swing the bat or field the ball and did everything they were asked to do.

      Mendoza added two more runs batted in against Ketchikan and Williams, Nelson and Mendoza had hits.

      “Mendoza is our senior leader,” Tompkins said. “He will play anywhere we ask. He is a catcher and one of the best middle infielders we have in the state.”

      Tompkins noted the size of the Ketchikan and Juneau-Douglas rosters and the skill of their players and coaches as reasons the Falcons and the Sitka Wolves compete so hard.

      “We just try to get the best out of our players,” he said. “If we make a mistake just forget about it. We are not very deep but as long as we are giving everything we have inside there is no coach that can complain about that.”

      On Saturday the Crimson Bears lost to Ketchikan 4-3 on a walk-off Kings hit after two JDHS errors. The Crimson Bears also succumbed to TMHS pitcher Preston Williams’ 5-0 no-hitter in the following game.

    “That was a fun game to watch,” Bentz said. “I was happy for him. I just wished he had thrown it against someone else.”

      Bentz added, “There is nothing that stood out to me as concerning on the weekend. The guys all played hard. They were eager and excited."

      Bentz said the team has already played four more games than last season, when COVID-19 cancelled competition before the year could begin.

      “I kept saying to my coaches that I felt like I was 18 again and playing,” he said. “I was all giddy and excited just like the players were…. the umpires, the parents, everyone in the stands, the atmosphere was so positive.”

      Bentz noted the play of his seniors as well as sophomores Cayden Mesdag at the plate and Caleb Campbell in the field and freshman catcher Lamar Blatnick.

      “Everyone did a good job, played great and hard,” Bentz said. “But those three stood out, just by learning as the tournament went on… We lost three games and we tied one on the weekend, and I am beyond excited to see what these guys can do. Games will take care of themselves if we consistently work hard.”

      Following Thunder Mountains’ 5-0 shutout of JDHS, the Falcons topped Ketchikan 7-6 (Sitka beat the Kings 5-4 earlier in the day). 

      “That was our second game of the day for us,” Tompkins said. “The guys were riding the emotions of beating Juneau-Douglas and were pumped about Preston’s no-hitter. I just stood back and watched Preston pitch that game, when something that special is happening you just enjoy it. Seeing the teams’ smiles made my whole weekend. No one outworks Preston and he has a great attitude and is a team leader.”

      Tompkins noted that sophomore Rory Hayes stood out as a first year catcher going two games back-to-back behind the plate. Against Ketchikan, Mendoza continued to hit well with two runs, one hit and one RBI; Freshman Kasen Ludeman had two hits and two RBI; Freshman Liam Hart had an RBI; Freshman Kaeden Quinto had two runs scored and a hit; and senior Josh Rosenbruch had a hit and an RBI.

      Tompkins also said the tournament was just a round-robin format to get players time on the fields.

      “It should be a competitive league this season,” he said. “Everybody gets tougher near the end.”

      Both JDHS' and TMHS' next home games will depend on snow removal from the fields. They are scheduled for Friday and Saturday but Adair Kennedy is still unusable. TMHS is scheduled to travel to Petersburg on April 30 and JDHS to Ketchikan on May 7.

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