Prior to each of what eventually became the two biggest games of their season, members of the Chugiak softball squad joyfully enjoyed themselves a sing-along inside the dugout.
Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” and a few other teenage girl faves echoed out for everyone at the Cartee Fields Complex to hear.
Many hours and innings later, the Mustangs sang a different yet familiar tune.
“Chugiak! Mustangs! Chu, Chu, Chugiak! Mus, Mus, Mustangs.”
Capping a monumental challenge, Chugiak earned the ASAA Division I state softball championship out of the loser’s bracket on a lengthy yet memorable Saturday. The Mustangs won four games on the final day of the three-day, double-elimination tournament, including a pair of wins over two-time defending champ South.
After dispatching Colony and East early, Chugiak defeated the Wolverines first 9-8 and then 8-3 in the decisive tilt. The Mustangs (25-6) corralled their third DI title and the first since 2003. They finished runner-up to South the last two seasons.
When freshman first baseman Aubree Sims caught a foul pop for the final out, she and her teammates completed more than 10 hours of Saturday game action at just before 10:30 p.m. The two victories against South alone took more than four hours of real time.
“We were all prepared to do our very best,” said senior Karlee Transburg, who twirled a 102-pitch, seven-hitter in the nightcap. “We proved there’s a lot of fight in us with everything that was going on today.”
Chugiak won the 27th Alaska School Activities Association-sanctioned DI softball title. The first was earned by Service in 1996, the year after high-school aged athletes made Alaska history by becoming the first to represent the state in any Little League World Series.
Much earlier Saturday, Juneau-Douglas captured the DII crown with a 6-5 victory over Sitka. The Crimson Bears won their third DII title since inexplicably dropping down to the small-schools level (student enrollment of 850 or fewer) in 2014.
The program won seven DI championships between 1999 and 2010.
The current DI scene features only 12 teams to DII’s 16, and reads quite Anchorage School District heavy. The eight ASD schools play for DI supremacy with Colony, Lathrop, Wasilla and West Valley. So yeah, that’s a thing for whatever reason.
During the regular season and Cook Inlet Conference tournament, Chugiak won only once against South in four tries, a 3-1 home win May 20. The Mustangs were thumped by the Wolverines 11-3 in Friday’s state winner’s bracket semifinal.
The way they turned the tables on the two-time defending champs was nothing short of stupefying. Clutch hits kept coming – Sims tallied three knocks in the first victory over South.
In the final win, Teal Transburg, Megan Traxinger, Sophia Fuller and Karlee Transburg registered run-producing hits. Teal Transburg totaled three RBI in the finale.
Fuller played sparkling defense at shortstop, as did South senior Emily McCutcheon. She connected on her team-record 19th home run and 55th RBI in the bottom of the first inning.
And yes, the Wolverines (25-5) were a little shook in the postgame aftermath.
“We had a solid win over East (earlier) and I think we just came into the first game against Chugiak thinking we were going to win it,” said McCutcheon, who’s set to attend Western Washington in a few months. “Stuff started to get out of hand, and it was hard to get back up from there. People kind of put their heads down too soon.”
“Chugiak flat out outhit us and found better barrels than we did. That’s what is going to win you a championship.”
Karlee Transburg’s largest moment on the mound came in the bottom of the sixth inning with her team holding a four-run lead. South loaded the bases with one out thanks to a walk and two singles.
Transburg fanned Jiloni Walker and Abigail Ellis to get out of the jam in punctuating fashion.
“Those moments were all about learning to trust myself,” Transburg said. “That was probably the biggest thing.”
Transburg lost her voice and was barely audible after the long day of softball and singing. She tried her best to emphasize the significance of Chugiak’s first championship in 20 years. She also stressed the importance of the enthusiasm the Mustangs showed throughout the long, long day.
“We had to let loose so we didn’t get too caught up in how big a moment we were in,” she said.
The Mustangs may have even converted a few of their fans into Swifties, the nickname for Taylor Swift’s fans. Seconds after the last miraculous win was sealed, an adult male screamed out a different “I’m going to Disneyland!”-like exclamation as Swift’s “Eras” tour seemingly takes the country by hit-machine storm.
“We’re all going to see ‘TS’ now, ooh, wee,” he shouted.
Yeah, that’s rather unlikely.
“But I think one of our girls is supposed to see her (in concert) later this summer,” Transburg said.
ASAA/First National Bank Alaska
2023 State Softball Championships
Megan Traxinger, Chugiak
Emma Morrisssey, Colony
Alexa Hehl, Service
Sela Rodriguez, East
Millie Wurst, South
Karlee Transburg, Chugiak
Aaliyah Villafuerte, East
Emily McCutcheon, South
Sophia Fuller, Chugiak
Alexis Keavney, South