Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - A pitching gem, a fielding show, spectacular steals and a team performance gave the Juneau Gastineau Channel Little League Major Baseball 10-12 year olds the District 2 Championship in a 6-1 win over Ketchikan on Saturday at Miller Field. The team completed a three-game sweep in its best-of-five series and earned a berth in the state championship at Anchorage next week.
Hunter Carte threw a complete game, struck out six, allowed just four singles and one hit batter and had two fielding put outs. The defense picked up nine ground balls and two fly outs, including the game-ending leap at the fence by center fielder Vinnie Nizich. And the team had just one fielding error but also caught a runner off third base in a run down between the bag and the plate.
“I just wanted to say, it wasn’t just me. It was our whole team that helped me,” Carte, the winning pitcher, said. “Everybody pushed me through it. I am really proud of everybody. I just wanted to say, thank you, guys, for helping me along the way.”
Ketchikan had the first at bats with Jonas Simpson and Maximus Davis rapping a hard ground ball and deep fly ball, respectively, that were fielding practice outs for Carte on the mound and Brenner Harralson in right field. Ketchikan’s Zyrus Manabat snuck in a single but Carte followed with his first strikeout.
Juneau warmed up its bats against Ketchikan starting pitcher Paxton Swaim in the bottom half of the first with Carte and Micah Nelson flying out deep in left field. Noah Lewis ripped a clean single and stole a base and KB Lim hit a hard line drive that was snared to retire the home side.
Juneau’s Keaton Belcourt fielded the first out of the second inning and Carte put down consecutive batters to bring GCLL back to the plate. A leadoff single by Parker Katasse was followed by two fielder’s choice put outs on hits by Drew Cadigan-McAdoo and Belcourt and a final hard ground ball out by Ryker Nelson.
Ketchikan put the first run of the game across the plate in the top of the third inning, but it could have been more if not for a fielding gem by Juneau’s Harralson.
Ketchikan’s Haydn McMahon hit a lead-off single and advanced to second on a bunt by Finn Winder, who was safe at first on a throwing error. The error led McMahon to attempt third base but Harralson backed up the play from right field and put a pin-point throw to Carte covering third base for an out. Winder would score two batters later as Davis singled into the outfield, but Juneau added another fielding gem in the inning as catcher Lewis, pitcher Carte and third baseman Isaac Kirsch caught Ketchikan’s Simpson in a rundown for the second out and then Carte earned his fourth strikeout of the game to end the inning.
Juneau put four runs across in the bottom of third as Harralson walked, Carte reached on a hard line-drive error and both stole bases to get at second and third. Micah Nelson put a ground ball in play that scored the runners for a 2-1 lead. Andrew Sanders hit a one-out skipper past third base to score M. Nelson for 3-1 and Kirsch took a long count that included a passed ball that Sanders stole home on for 4-1. Kirsch would walk and earn a steal but Ketchikan held for the third out.
Ketchikan’s Ayden Manabat hit a two-out single in the top of the fourth but Juneau held its opponents scoreless.
In the bottom half, R. Nelson led off with a single, Nizich singled and Carte was hit by Ketchikan pitcher A. Manabat to load the bases and M. Nelson singled to score R. Nelson for a 5-1 lead. Lewis earned a walk to bring Nizich across the plate for the 6-1 advantage. Ketchikan’s Manabat retired two of the final three batters and teammate Julian Paule fielded a ground ball in between to force out a runner at home.
The Juneau defense stiffened in the fifth inning as Carte notched his fifth strikeout, fielded the second out and Parker Katasse scooped up a ground ball to second base for the third out.
Belcourt and Carte were stranded on base in the bottom half.
Juneau’s trip to the state tournament was sealed in the top of the sixth and final inning as Katasse fielded the first out, Carte struck batter Z. Manabat then struck out the opponent’s home run threat Paule, and Nizich took off on the crack of Ketchikan hitter Paxton Swaim’s bat to chase down his fly ball, leap into the air and tuck it into his glove for the District 2 championship.
“That last catch, well, I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” Nizich said. “What was going through my head on that catch, I just want the ball all game and I was ready, so I was just excited.”
The 6-1 score completed the three-game sweep. Juneau had defeated Ketchikan 9-5 on Thursday and 7-4 on Friday.
“Juneau!” the GCLL All-Stars yelled in their post-game circle meeting in center field. “District 2! Gastineau Channel Little League!”
The Alaska Little League Major State Championship best-of-five series begins July 31 in Anchorage and runs through Aug. 5.