Kenai Post 20 is no stranger to cramming a lot of baseball into a weekend trip to Anchorage, but when the Twins won their fourth game in two days at Mulcahy Stadium to claim their third American Legion state title, and first since 1995, the emotions ran a little higher than usual.
"This is unbelievable," Kenai's Jacob Darrow said after the Twins powered their way to Saturday's title-clinching 11-4 win over Chugiak Post 33. "It feels like a dream"
Kenai barely slipped past Chugiak 8-7 in an afternoon game Saturday and won games against South Post 4 and Eagle River Post 8 on Friday. A loss in any of those game would have eliminated the top-seeded Twins, a predicament they fell into after losing to eighth-seeded Eagle River to open the tournament last weekend. The Twins turned it all around with seven straight victories.
"After the first game, we had a word we came up with and it was 'respond' and that's the only way that we were gonna be able to come back and do what we came to the state tournament to do," said Kenai's A.J. Hull, who earned the win and notched a team-high three hits in the final win over Chugiak.
Hull was no stranger to the mound this week, pitching six innings against Service Post 28 on Tuesday and five innings against South in an afternoon game Friday. He still had enough left in the tank to hold a potent Chugiak offense to three hits in seven innings of work.
"I definitely had a different approach to the mound today," Hull said. "What's killed us in this tournament is throwing balls and that's what's kept other teams in the ballgame with us.
"I rely on my defense more than anything and I know that anyone can make a play at any position, so if we're throwing strikes they may get a base hit every now and then, but it is tough for them to earn two or three base hits per inning to put runs on the board."
Chugiak was the first to put runs on the board in the final game, taking a 2-0 lead in the third inning on a two-run single by Deven Ferriss. Chugiak maintained the lead behind starting pitcher Chase Wilson through four innings before Kenai exploded for six runs and took a four-run lead after five innings. Brian Rowe provided the rally's highlight hit when he scorched a two-run ground-rule double that curled around third base and lodged under the fence down the left-field line.
"I didn't hit my spots," Wilson said of his pitching in the fifth. "Those six runs are my fault, so I kind of blame myself for it right now. I feel if I would have hit my spots during that time, we would have had that trophy."
Chugiak looked as though it might win the championship in the first game, scoring four runs in the top of the eighth inning to take a 6-3 lead. All four runs came with two outs, starting with a two-run single from Wilson. Conner Cimmiyotti added an RBI double and starting pitcher Justin Schneider completed the rally with an RBI single.
Schneider was in line for a win after scattering nine hits over the first seven innings, but Cameron Fritz took over on the mound to start the bottom of the eighth.
Fritz issued a walk to start the inning, then picked up two quick outs before Kenai started its rally. The Twins racked five runs on three hits, taking an 8-6 lead when Hull scored on a Chugiak throwing error prompted by Hull's steal of third base. Kenai's Josiah Covey pitched a shaky ninth, allowing Chugiak to score a run before nailing down the win.
Hector Rivera led Kenai with three hits and two RBIs in the first game. Wilson led Chugiak with three RBIs on two hits.
"Errors killed us," Wilson said of the first loss. "We didn't play our perfect game."
Chugiak came into Saturday's play the only undefeated team in the 11-team, double-elimination tournament, averaging 10 runs per game in four wins. The Mustangs, who last won state in 2008, were in pursuit of their seventh state title.
Winning a title earned Kenai a trip to the American Legion Northwest Region 7 tournament in Billings, Mont., where it will open the tournament against Hawaii on Thursday.
Chugiak's runner-up finish earned it a spot at the American Legion tournament in Burley, Idaho, where its first game is against Utah on Friday.
Find Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or call him at 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS
Anchorage Daily News