Wolves Take Third in Baseball State Tourney

By GARLAND KENNEDY
Sentinel Sports Editor
    Facing teams from across Alaska, the Sitka High Wolves snagged third place in the state championship baseball tournament, Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Anchorage, after falling to Service High in the semifinal game but rallying to win once more in the consolation bracket.
    Sitka opened the competition with an 11-1 blowout victory over the West Valley Wolfpack, a game in which Sitka’s bats were hot and their defense resilient.

Sitka Wolves line up to shake hands with the South Anchorage baseball team after winning third place in a consolation game in the state tournament, Saturday in Anchorage. Sitka won their opening game, but lost 15-1 to Service High before beating South 11-3. (Photo provided by Heather Gluth)

 

 

Sitka senior Grady Smith pitches in the ASAA state championship baseball tournament, this weekend in Anchorage. The Wolves took third after beating South Anchorage in a consolation game. (Photo provided by Heather Gluth)


    “The first game went well; we played well. Honestly, there was nothing we could have done better. I mean, we ten-run rolled them... We were hitting the ball well, we were feeling good and we got a good start,” junior Chance Coleman said of the tourney opener.
    The Wolves scored runs against the Wolfpack in the first inning and built momentum from there.
    “We started off strong hitting and we were getting runners on base. And we were in that game the whole time, no one ever got down,” said team catcher Tanner Steinson, a junior. “... When you start out with runs in the first inning. It’s always a morale booster.”
    With junior Levi Hodges on the mound for Sitka, West Valley had difficulty getting runners on base, and Sitka won the game with ease. Junior Bryce Compagno-Calhoun, also a pitcher, praised Hodges for his work in shutting down the Wolfpack’s offense.
    “Levi was pitching, he pitched really well against West Valley, and we were all hitting really well. And our defense was really good, and it was a really good game,” Compagno-Calhoun said.
    The team executed their routines well in games one and three, coach Ken Carley said.
    “We just hit and played good defense in the first and the last games,” the coach said on Monday as players arrived at Moller Field to turn in their uniforms.
    A week prior, the Wolves earned a Region V title in a nail-biter contest against Juneau-Douglas that came down to a single run in an if-game.
    Unlike other Sitka High teams which go against smaller schools in state tourneys, the Wolves baseball squad competes against the large Division I schools in the state bracket.
    “We do pretty well for being a tiny school… We want to play challenging teams,” coach Carley said.
    Next in the bracket was the toughest opponent the Wolves faced all year – the Service High Cougars.
    Sitka lost 15-1, their worst defeat of the season. The team gave up 16 hits in the loss.
    “Service, they’re a good team. We had errors, but they weren’t game changing errors, and they just hit the ball like crazy and they made plays and they’re a good team… They hit the ball well, and they’ve got really good defense and they kind of just shut us down,” Chance Coleman said. “I mean, we had a few hits but they played a really good game of baseball and they did all weekend, all three of their games.”
    Bryce Compagno-Calhoun pitched for Sitka in the game, telling the Sentinel the Cougars’ bats were hot, and Sitka couldn’t find a way to react in time.
    “I was having trouble locating a lot of my pitches, and they were hitting the ball really well, and they were just hitting in all the right spots, and we just couldn’t seem to get our bats going,” Compagno-Calhoun said.
    The Cougars were hitting from the start, coach Carley said, and managed to score multiple runs in almost all innings.
    “They came out hot with their bats. They put up, I think, three (runs) in the first. They hit very well. Their pitcher wasn’t dominant by any means, but when you’re scoring -- we call them crooked numbers when you score more than one in every inning but one… They were putting runs on the board, and their pitcher was good, he just wasn’t dominant,” Carley said.
    Service High went on to take the state title after a 5-1 triumph over Eagle River in the championship game, Saturday.
    After the rout, Sitka dropped into the consolation bracket and faced off against South Anchorage High for the third and fifth place rankings, also Saturday.
    “Sitka has never played South Anchorage in a non-championship game. And I think we’ve only lost to them one time, and it was my freshman year,” Coleman said. “So no one wants to lose to that team, and it feels really good to beat a team like that – they’re a big school. And so we just went into it like, ‘Let’s finish on a win. Nothing else you can do.’ So we just played our best and had a good game and they actually ended up forfeiting.”
    Sitka shattered South 11-3, securing that third place finish in the Division I bracket out of eight teams present. The only other Southeast squad in play was Juneau-Douglas, but Eagle River blanked the Crimson Bears on Thursday, and while J-D won its first consolation game 8-6 against Colony, the team sputtered out and lost 3-0 to Chugiak in the end.
    Looking back on the crucial game for third place, Steinson highlighted Sitka’s capable defense, then led by senior pitcher Grady Smith.
    “Grady pitched outstanding and we all were hitting great as well in that game,” the catcher said. “As long as we were hitting and scoring runs, we were doing good. Yeah, our defense was pretty much 100 percent all tournament.”
    A decisive last play by Smith sealed the game for the Wolves, as players recalled in vivid detail.
    “It was a chopper (hit) to third base, and he was pitching and he ran off the mound and barehanded it and did a 360 and threw to first, got him out!” Coleman recalled. “And that was his last play of his (high school) career... He looked like a shortstop, it was pretty cool to see for his last play.”
    Smith’s throw to catch a base runner out on first stuck in coach Carley’s mind, too.
    “He barehanded a chopper, threw it across his body to get the out at first and end it… Anytime you beat South it just feels good,” Carley said.
    Smith will go on to play baseball at Feather River College in Quincy, California, in the fall.
    Smith’s final play of the consolation game was a highlight of the tournament for Compagno-Calhoun.
    “He bare handed it, spun around and threw him out at first to end the game and I thought that was just really sweet,” Compagno-Calhoun said.
    Looking back on a season with a 22-7 win-loss record, the coach thinks the Wolves put up a solid showing.
    “We had a really good year. I expected us to do a little better up at state, but really up there if you lose one game, you’re out of contention,” Carley said. “There are no redos, so we just had one bad game and that’s all it takes.”
    Smith is the only senior graduating from Sitka’s starting lineup this season, and the team has a sizable contingent of experienced juniors in play. Compagno-Calhoun wants to see the Wolves holding a state championship banner in 2025.
    “For one, I really want to win state,” Compagno-Calhoun said. “... We’re still going to be really skilled, so I think it will still be really good next year. We’ve got a really good chance.”

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