FAIRBANKS — Hutchison High School’s softball program is only three years old.
The Hawks, though, are playing for the second straight year in the small schools category of the Alaska School Activities Association/First National Bank State Softball Championship at the Cartee Complex in Anchorage.
Seven of the 13 players on the Hawks’ 2014 roster participated in last year’s state-tournament debut for the team.
“Some of the girls know what to expect from the level of play there,” Hawks head coach Jason Jacobs said Sunday by cellphone. “We’re excited to go back there and I think it will be a little bit better.
“Last year in the first game, there was a lot of nervousness and the unknown, and we played like it,” Jacobs recalled.
The Hawks were the Mid Alaska Conference runner-up this year to the North Pole Patriots. The Patriots won the conference’s regular-season title and are appearing in the state tournament for the first time since 2007, when North Pole was runner-up in the large schools category.
“It was a focus for the coaches and the players,” North Pole head coach Liz Alexander said of playing in this year’s small schools state tournament.
“We thought we would be able to be competitive and reach that goal,” she added, “and we did.”
Both teams start the state tournament at 1 p.m. today. North Pole faces the Ketchikan Kings, the Southeast Conference runner-up, and Hutchison plays the Homer Mariners, the second-place team from the Northern Lights Conference.
A win for North Pole puts it in a 3:30 p.m. semifinal against the Kodiak Bears, the top seed from the Northern Lights. If Hutchison wins, it plays at 3:30 p.m., against the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears, the top team from the Southeast Conference.
The semifinal winners move on the the winner’s bracket final at 9 a.m., Saturday, and the winner of that contest plays for the state title at 2 p.m. Saturday.
If the winning team from the consolation bracket wins in the championship game, an “if necessary” game will be immediately played afterwards to determine the small schools state champion.
If North Pole and Hutchison lose in the first round today, they drop into consolation games at 6 tonight.
Versatile is one of the descriptions Alexander uses for this year’s edition of the Patriots. It particularly applies to North Pole’s defense.
“I’ve hardly had the same lineup in a defense for more than a couple of games,” she said.
“It’s a good thing we have going for us,” she added. “(State) opponents haven’t seen everything we have, and we’ll be able to make adjustments if one of our players is having an off day, or if we see something on the other team that we can capitalize on.”
The Patriots have two strong pitchers in senior Robyn Heineken and sophomore Karissa Ramos, and two strong freshmen in Allison Ramos and Selina Dykes.
“We want to competitive, and we want to represent our conference and the Interior well,” Alexander said of the state tournament.
The Hawks are young this year, but their youth doesn’t equal inexperience.
“We’ve got a lot of freshmen players but they’ve all played in the ASA (Amateur Softball Association) and rec leagues,” Jacobs said.
“In previous years, we had a lot of girls who tried out but had never played softball before,” he added.
Three of those freshman — starting pitcher Kelsey Huntington, Riley Jacobs and utility player Erica Losee — are among Hutchison’s top players.
“They’ve all played really well, they’ve all had great games,” coach Jacobs said. “They’re all consistent players.”
Contact sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.