The Sitka Lady Wolves softball team won their third-straight small schools state title last weekend – their fourth in eight years – which means it’s time for another banner to hang from the gym’s rafters.
Coach Bob Potrzuski took a scrappier team to Anchorage than his 2011 squad. Down five seniors from last year, the 2012 Wolves began the season with some rare losses – including one shut-out by conference rival Ketchikan.
“You know, they were a little grumbly, and not really used to losing. But, basically we were starting all over again.”
The Lady Wolves eventually hit their stride – literally. Potrzuski modified his offense to take advantage of the speed offered by players like freshman shortstop Sidney Riggs. Seniors Johanna Gluth and JC Saunders – who missed last year due to an injury — soon developed into power hitters. The leadership gap was plugged by the season-long growth of seniors Jetta Fay Workman and Bethany Lowrance.
The Lady Wolves would arrive at the state tournament as the number one conference seed with an 11-1 record.
And with two quick wins, Sitka looked like it was on its way to an easy third title. The Lady Wolves beat Soldotna 12-4 on Friday, and then took down last year’s runner-up Homer 12-8 on Saturday morning.
There was only one problem: Homer clawed its way back to the finals in the double-elimination tournament with a win over Ketchikan.
The Lady Mariners looked off when they met Sitka in the championship – Homer’s third game of the day. They gave up five runs to the Lady Wolves in the first inning. But appearances were deceiving.
“I’m thinking, This is great. I’m going to get the whole roster in. Everybody’s going to play. And Homer would just not go away. It would be a dink here, a ground ball there. A back liner there, then somebody would hit a shot. And repeat. And we were up 7-2, 8-3, and then all of the sudden it was 9-8.”
That’s 9-8, with Homer in the lead midway through the fourth inning. Potzruski had his own daughter, Stefania, on the mound, and she was doing yeoman work for the Lady Wolves, but all the breaks seemed to be going toward Homer.
“It was almost one of those, Who’s going to bat last? Deals. We were the home team, and we were thinking, we’re going to bat last, so we’ve got a good shot.”
That strategy wasn’t necessary because, as Potrzuski says, the Sitka girls don’t like to lose. In the bottom of the fourth Sidney Riggs walked, and then was doubled home by Lowrance to even the score. Sophomore all-tournament selection Megan Reid batted in Lowrance on a single. Kendal Phippen bunted her way to first, and doubles by Workman and Saunders put Sitka up 13-9.
Homer replied with three runs in the sixth, but Sitka capitalized on its speed in the bottom of the inning to put the game just out of reach. Johanna Gluth made it to first on a dropped third strike, stole second, and then scored on a throwing error.
This ability to score without a hit is one reason Potrzuski – who considers himself a nice guy – says no one likes him. When Homer took the lead in the game, he says the crowd reacted like the Lady Mariners had won the World Series.
With three straight state titles, Potrzuski says his Lady Wolves have made themselves a target.
“People want to win, and right now Sitka’s in the way of that.”
Potrzuski credits much of the success of Lady Wolves softball to his coaching staff, and to Sitka’s junior high program.
He says they began conferring about next season almost right away – and about how to make room for that third softball banner in the gym.
KCAW’s Sitka Sports contributed to this story.