Prior to the American Legion state tournament, Wasilla coach Boone Thompson described South Post 4 as “the toughest eight seed you’ll see in a long time.”
He was right.
South won four straight games, including a 6-0 championship victory Thursday over Dimond Post 21 at Mulcahy Stadium, to claim its third state title and first since 2009. It was the first shutout in the championship game since 1982.
The win earned South a trip to the Aug. 7-11 Northwest Regional tournament in Eugene, Oregon.
South outscored its opponents 35-7 and allowed one run in its final three games.
“We caught fire and we didn’t get put out,” said Nick Jensen, who was named the tournament’s top pitcher after posting a 0.00 earned-run average with five strikeouts in eight innings.
Four of Jensen’s strikeouts came Thursday, when he worked the final two innings to seal the championship.
“I really wanted to get a strikeout to end the game,” he said. “Nothing feels better than that.”
Jensen took over for starter Jacob Crapps, who was just as stellar. Crapps allowed three hits and four walks in seven innings.
“He was just pitching to contact,” said South catcher Alec Valdez.
Dimond’s best offensive opportunity came in the seventh inning when it loaded the bases with two outs. It was just the second time all game Dimond had a runner in scoring position.
Fighting fatigue, Crapps got Preston Micheletto to fly out to center on a 2-2 pitch to escape the jam.
“I was just trying to throw a strike,” Crapps said.
Quieting a spirited Dimond team and preserving South’s 4-0 lead that inning was a turning point in the game, Crapps said.
“To shut them down was big,” he said.
When South loaded the bases, it took advantage.
South’s biggest inning came in the top of the sixth when the Wolverines plated three runs with the bases juiced — Tommy Koloski drew a walk on a full count, Jonny Homza hit an RBI single and Nick Lopetrone scored on a wild pitch for a 4-0 lead.
After South loaded the bases for a second time in the sixth, Jordan Clevenger relieved Dimond starter Grant Remmer. Clevenger got Parker Johnson to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
South loaded the bases again in the ninth inning and scored two more runs to put the game out of reach.
The game-winning run came just four batters into the contest when Spencer Floyd’s RBI single scored Jonah Costello in the first inning. Floyd also scored twice and drew two walks.
Valdez summed South’s game up in five words: good pitching and solid defense.
The latter prevented Dimond from tying the game twice when South held just a one-run lead.
In the third inning, Floyd grabbed a shallow shot to center just before it hit the grass to end the inning and strand one Dimond runner.
“It was a shoestring catch,” he said.
In the fifth inning, it was Costello preserving the shutout. The second baseman made a sliding grab and got the putout at first to end the inning and strand a Dimond runner at second.
Valdez, who went 2 for 4 and scored a run, finished the tournament with a .588 batting average and was named Most Valuable Player. Jensen added a pair of hits and Lopetrone drove in two runs.
Mahlon Cleveland went 2 for 3 to lead Dimond, which will continue to play. Dimond, third-place Juneau Post 25 and Fairbanks Post 30, winners of the consolation tournament, each earned berths to the NWCART tournament at Mulcahy, Aug. 8-12.
Remaining in the winners bracket enabled South to reach the finals after three games. After knocking off top-seeded Wasilla, South blanked Kenai then pounded Dimond in the winners bracket semifinal.
Not bad for a team that made state on the last day of the regular season.
South’s title also served as redemption for its recent close calls in championships.
South finished runner-up this high school season, losing by one run to Sitka. During last year’s Legion tournament, South forced an if-necessary game with Chugiak but lost 4-3 in extra innings.
“It feels pretty good being the eight seed and going undefeated,” Floyd said.
American Legion state tournament
Gold glove — Charlie Bucolo, Chugiak, 1.000 fielding percentage, 12 assists
Big stick — Tod Baseden, Juneau, .438 batting average
Top pitcher — Nick Jensen, South, 0.00 ERA, five strikeouts in eight innings
MVP — Alec Valdez, South, .588 batting average, six stolen bases
Year Winner Runner-up Score
2014 South Dimond 6-0
2013 Chugiak South 4-3, 11 inn.
2012 Kenai Chugiak 11-4
2011 Dimond South 5-4
2010 Dimond Wasilla 8-5
2009 South Fairbanks 13-3
2008 Chugiak Kenai 4-3
2007 South Chugiak 2-1
2006 East Chugiak 11-4
2005 East Chugiak 5-1
2004 East Bartlett 8-7, 10 inn.
2003 East Bartlett 7-2
2002 Dimond East 7-3
2001 Service Bartlett 11-1
2000 Dimond Chugiak 18-3
1999 Dimond Service 7-2
1998 Chugiak Dimond 5-3
1997 Service Chugiak 6-1
1996 Chugiak Service 6-3
1995 Kenai Chugiak 8-2
1994 Chugiak Juneau 8-6
1993 Chugiak Service 6-2
1992 East Service 4-3
1991 Kenai Service 5-1
1990 Wasilla Service 9-4
1989 Chugiak Wasilla 11-9
1988 East West 10-5
1987 Dimond Service 16-3