South Post 4 entered the American Legion state tournament with the worst league record of eight teams vying for the title.
After a dominating performance Tuesday at Mulcahy Stadium, South now owns the best record in the tournament and will play in the championship game Thursday as the only undefeated team left.
In the winners bracket semifinal Tuesday, South invoked the mercy rule with a 14-1 win over Dimond Post 21. In the early game, Juneau Post 25 eliminated defending champion Chugiak Post 33 with a 14-9 victory.
Dimond and Juneau meet Wednesday with the winner advancing to the finals.
Juneau thought its season ended with a 2-1 loss to top-seeded Wasilla on Monday. But the Road Warriors had to forfeit the game for using an ineligible player.
The player, who was not identified, broke league rules when he missed four Legion games earlier this season to play on another team in a tournament in the Lower 48, said Legion chair Russ Baker. That action made him ineligible, Baker said, and playing in Monday’s game forced the forfeit.
“It’s a longstanding rule,” Baker said.
He received an anonymous tip about the situation Sunday night, Baker said, and confirmed it the following day.
According to Baker, Wasilla coach Boone Thompson told Baker he was unaware the player participated in the tournament. The rules are clear, Baker said, and it’s the coach’s responsibility to ensure parents and players understand them.
“I take no joy in crushing the 15, 16 guys on that Wasilla team,” Baker said.
Dimond’s crushing defeat was due to a plethora of blunders in the top of the fifth inning, which led to 10 South runs. South recorded just three hits that inning despite sending 16 batters to the plate.
After scoring Nick Jensen with an RBI single, Max Micks, who went 2 for 3 with three RBIs, came home on a wild pitch.
After Johnny Homza drew a walk, Jonah Costello bunted to advance Homza. But an overthrow from pitcher Blayke Brower to first base allowed Micks and Homza to score.
Trouble for Dimond continued after Parker Johnson, who went 2 for 3 and scored three runs, drew a walk to put runners on the corners. One of Alec Valdez’s two hits got the ball out of the infield but another overthrow — this time to home plate — allowed two more South runs to score.
Later in the inning, Dimond reliever Payton Lauwers sailed a pitch over the head of catcher Kyle Bremont, and Homza scored South’s 14th run.
“We just went after them and kept going after them,” South pitcher Sage Dudick said.
Dudick pitched 3 1/3 innings in relief — allowing just one hit and one walk — and provided a two-run single during South’s fifth-inning onslaught. Dudick said he quieted Dimond’s bats by consistently catching the corner of the plate with his breaking ball.
“It’s always nice when you can get a curveball there,” he said.
South narrowly made the playoffs, clinching the eighth and final spot with a win in its regular-season finale. The team knew it would be fine once it secured a postseason berth, said Jacob Crapps.
“Tournament play is when we really pick it up,” he said.
Upsets have been a theme for the tournament. The lower seed prevailed in each of the four games in the first round.
The three teams left are the No. 6, 7 and 8 seeds. South has no intention of continuing that trend, especially after last season, when South came out of the losers bracket and almost won the championship.
South’s 7-4 win forced an if-necessary game with Chugiak, which responded with a thrilling 4-3 victory in extra innings to claim its seventh state title.
No matter if it faces Dimond or Juneau, South wants to end the tournament undefeated, Crapps said.
“We don’t want to play two games,” he said.
Juneau 14, Chugiak 9
Robert Markovich went 3 for 5 with two RBIs to keep Juneau’s state title hopes alive.
Juneau scored six runs in the second inning and held the lead the rest of the way.
Nathan Klein had a pair of hits and two runs for Juneau, which got two hits, three RBIs and two runs from Michael Dale.
Sam Hanson went 3 for 4 with an RBI and two runs for Chugiak, which got two hits and two RBIs from Deven Ferriss.
Reach Mike Nesper at email@example.com or 257-4335.
American Legion state tournament
Juneau 14, Chugiak 9
South 14, Dimond 1
11 a.m. — Juneau vs. Dimond
2 p.m. — South vs. Juneau-Dimond winner (if-necessary game 6 p.m.)