East High defeats Chugiak to win first state softball title in 5 years

Jun. 4—The most dominant high school softball team during the regular season without a doubt was Bettye Davis East. However, the Thunderbirds were a little unsure of themselves heading into last weekend's Division I state tournament in Fairbanks.

After going 19-1 in the regular season, their confidence took a blow following some uneven results in the Cook Inlet Conference tournament, where they fell to defending champion Chugiak for the second time this year in the title game.

Not only did the Thunderbirds overcome their minor mental hurdle and avenge their lone losses of the season, they bested the Mustangs three times over the course of the three-day tournament to claim their first state championship since 2019.

"It's a full-heart kind of moment," East coach Virginia Griffith said. "I feel like the girls worked hard the entire season. It's hard to stay on top with that (first) loss and then not taking CIC. I think they were questioning whether or not they could do it, and I never had the question in my head."

Griffith said the team executed in the way she knew they could and ultimately prevailed over Chugiak 9-8 in pool play on Thursday. On Saturday, East topped the Mustangs twice, including a 5-0 shutout and a decisive 7-5 victory to secure the title.

"I think our community loves the game and the softball community in general is a small one with our girls competing in that two, three, four, five spot for the last few years, it feels wonderful to come in first," Griffith said.

Coming off a disappointing weekend the week prior, Griffith knew clearing the mental hurdle in front of them was just as important as anything they'd face on the field, at bat or on the mound.

"It was really a matter of them realizing that it was a mental block," she said. "It was a mental block that was preventing them from getting the hits they needed back-to-back to string runs together in CIC like they had all season."

She believes a lot of their issues stemmed from trying too hard and getting out of their own heads. They talked about it as a team and made a slight adjustment to their pregame routine in the state tournament.

"Before the games, my girls always say a prayer," Griffith said. "A lot of them are very religious and they've started a new tradition now where they circle up and say an affirmation before the prayer."

In those moments they're encouraging and positive.. Griffith said it helps not only to motivate them but narrows their collective focus on a common goal.

"They go one by one in a circle, they visualize what they want, they say it out loud, they get hyped up for the game and then say a prayer to refocus," Griffith said.

Given that the Thunderbirds' first win of the season came against the 2023 state champions, their coach never had a doubt they could do it again when it mattered the most.

"I know they worked hard all season too, and we were tied in our standings going into state, so it felt like we knew they were going to be competing, but I knew my girls had it in them," Griffith said. "Everybody comes to compete, and it's anybody's game who comes and laces up. Knowing that they beat us and we beat them, we knew we had to show up to play."

As far as standouts from the final game itself, sophomore triple threat sensation Sela Rodriguez "pitched a heck of a game" but the overall team effort on defense and offense was also superb, per Griffith.

"It wasn't everybody hitting all the time, but it was everybody getting base hits," she said. "It was really fun to see them, and I think we had three back-to-back, station-to-station, bases loaded where we kept going around the bases."

[Powered by sophomore sensation Sela Rodriguez, East softball team is among the top contenders heading to state]

Chugiak was able to notch one home run and while East had none, the consistent pressure applied by the offense was enough to keep the lead.

The Thunderbirds were cheered on by a healthy contingent of fans made of families and friends who made the trip to Fairbanks.

"Every family had to make that drive or make that flight and make their own arrangements," Griffith said. "We stayed in a team house, and we were their family."

Sitka takes top spot at DII softball

Sitka defeated Kodiak 14-5 on Saturday to take the Division II softball crown. The Wolves went unbeaten in pool play and topped Delta in a winners bracket game on Friday.

On Saturday, the Wolves topped Kodiak 13-5 but Kodiak stayed alive by topping Delta 7-6 in a loser-out game.

That put the Bears back in the finals but Sitka went on to earn the win 14-5 and take the title.