Wolves Rout Kodiak to Win State Softball Title

By GARLAND KENNEDY
Sentinel Sports Editor
    After a dominant showing in the regular season and a second-place finish at the regional tournament in May, the Sitka High Lady Wolves won the state softball tournament in Fairbanks Saturday, with a decisive victory over Kodiak.
    Sitka led off by knocking Delta High into the losers bracket in a 12-8 game Friday, then felling Kodiak 13-5.
    In the first of the three match-ups against Kodiak, Kaelynn Balovich batted in 5 runs, while the rest of the squad shut down the Bear’s batters and runners.

Sitka High’s softball team celebrates with their trophy after winning the ASAA Division II state championship in a title match against the Kodiak Bears 14-5, Saturday in Fairbanks. (Photo provided by Mike Callahan)


    On Saturday, the Wolves faced Kodiak again – twice – winning in both instances, 13-5 and 14-5, to seal the title. In the semifinal game, senior Kaiya Balovich threw all seven innings, striking out ten batters and giving up five hits in the process. On offense, each batter on the Wolves’ lineup notched a hit, with senior Dalila Callahan batting in three runners on two hits.
    Facing Kodiak a final time in the title game, Sitka’s bats were again alight. Adriana Denkinger, also a senior, made three hits and scored 3 runs, while both Sadie Saline and Kaelynn Balovich batted in two base runners.
    Kaiya Balovich was again on the mound in the final softball game of her high school career, in which she struck out three batters and gave up two hits.
    Going into the title game, junior Kaelynn Balovich told the Sentinel on Monday, Sitka’s morale was high.
    “We were really hype. Before the game started, there was like a 15 minute delay because the semifinals were still going on. So we were just dancing and cheering,” she said.
    The Wolves accumulated 8 runs in the bottom of the first, while the Bears were scoreless, though Kodiak managed 5 runs in the second. Sitka surged again in the fifth, ending the game early and securing the trophy.
    “We definitely found the pitcher’s timing and started hitting the ball automatically,” graduated senior Dalila Callahan said. “Everyone on the team, like all throughout the lineup... everyone was hitting the ball. And then they brought in the second pitcher and it took us a minute to find our groove, then we started hitting off of her and it was pretty awesome.”
    The team worked its way through the Division II state bracket without a loss, and ended the season with a 30-7 winning record.
    With the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth, sophomore Chalice Brenton stepped up to bat and made a walkoff hit to end the game.
    “Chalice is a great hitter. So I knew she was going to hit the ball but just watching it, it looked like the ball was in slow motion because we had bases loaded,” sophomore Alina Lebahn recalled. “She was up to bat, all she needed to do was hit the ball.”
    Sitka spent much of the season facing down formidable schools such as Juneau-Douglas, Ketchikan and Thunder Mountain, which tend to produce tough softball and baseball squads, SHS freshman Dylan Radziukinas said, a fact that honed the team’s skill going into the championship.
    “Because our season was so difficult, facing all these Southeast teams which are really tight competition, just not facing those teams at state made it a lot easier... I think everyone wanted it so much that we were all cheering for each other so much more than we ever had,” Radziukinas said.
    She trusted in the team’s starting pitcher, Kaiya Balovich, but highlighted Sitka’s strong fielding as well.
    “Knowing we have a really good pitcher, but not fully relying on that also, like relying on our own abilities, too, making sure we get the outs,” Radziukinas said.
    With so many games played in a two-day stretch, much of the state championship came down to endurance, coach Jael McCarty said.
    “Kodiak’s a fabulous team and it really just kind of came down to the adjustments being made, like our defense making adjustments to their hitters, their hitters making adjustments to our pitchers and vice versa,” she said. “Both teams were just exhausted and trying to see who could hold it together the longest.”
    Sitka’s bats were alive in Fairbanks, the coach noted, with some players hitting more than half the time they stepped up to the plate.
    “We could talk about any individual player but the fact is that our team batted over .400 (hitting the ball 40 percent of the time) as a team for the entire tournament, all games combined,” McCarty said. “We had a handful of girls that were .500 for the whole tournament. We just really picked at the right time and that takes the commitment in the offseason, that takes the commitment to morning cage time and the commitment to practice and the commitment in the classroom to get the good grades and all the other things that go into it.”
    Last year, Juneau-Douglas overcame Sitka by a single run in the championship game, but this year, Thunder Mountain took the regional title and never crossed paths with the Wolves in the state bracket, instead falling to Delta.
    For sophomore Ally Mayville, the victory was a bit surreal at first.
    “It was really exciting when Chalice hit that walk off, but I was talking to Kaelynn when we were sitting there and I was like, ‘Why does it feel like nothing?’... At first it was very underwhelming,” she said, noting that the team scored unusually easy victories against their state-level opponents.
    Lebahn shared some of that feeling.
    “It didn’t feel real... First inning in fielding we got three up, three down, jumped on that and then our bats were on fire, the first thing that really pushed us in that game… It was just fun, everybody had fun,” she said.
    Dalila Callahan told the Sentinel it took some time for the end of her high school softball career to sink in.
    “During the beginning of the game, everyone on the team was thinking this is just another game, let’s just keep our calm and keep our chill,” Callahan said. “And then after I was rounding on second, in the top of the fifth like I was standing there for a second. I was like… ‘This is like my last game ever. This is insane.’ And then we won.”
    Callahan had just made it home and was cheering in the dugout when Chalice Brenton hit the walk off and clinched the title.
    “It was a pop to center, and then two people came home and she got to second and the umps called the game and we’re all like, ‘Oh my god, we just won state,’ and happy tears came we were all smiling,” Callahan remembered.
    She will attend Feather River College in the fall to study kinesthesiology and play softball.
    In the opening days of the season, Sitka’s five seniors set “unity” as a team motto, and the mantra held through the year.
    Next year, the team has a chance at another championship “if we keep the same team unity… even though we’re losing some people, if we just stay together,” Kaelynn Balovich said.
    To compliment the idea of unity, the team decided on an extra slogan for the state tourney: “finish it.”
    “The girls worked hard for it,” coach McCarty said. “And I was excited to see them meet that last goal. They’ve continuously been meeting the goals of their season and their big motto for the team was, ‘finish it,’ from a documentary they had watched on Alabama softball… We just needed to finish it, finish the business we didn’t finish last year, and that’s what happened.”
    Along with Callahan, Adriana Denkinger, Kaiya Balovich, Nai’a Nelson and Kayaani Weathers graduated in May.
    “They were really good role models this year. If somebody wasn’t having their best game, you could always count on any one of the seniors to pick you up and back you up on anything. And that was really a big confidence booster having them in our season,” Alina Lebahn said.
    The team has played and competed as a unit since they were children, Lebahn noted, and that fact was evident to see on the diamond this season.
    “This team specifically has been playing together since we were, what, 10 years old? Like we’ve all been playing together, we all know each other’s strengths, we know each other in and out when it comes to playing,” Lebahn said. “Having that strong team bond really helped us in our whole season.”

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