The West Eagles had waited since 1977 to return to the top of Alaska baseball, so why not wait seven innings before scoring a run in the Alliance Baseball League championship game?
The Eagles beat Wasilla 3-2 with Jack Opinsky’s walkoff single to seize the state championship in front of a capacity crowd Wednesday night at Mulcahy Stadium.
West scored all three runs in the final inning after chasing starter Jacob Gilbert, who struck out 12 and allowed two hits before reaching the league’s pitch-limit of 105 early in the seventh.
Gilbert left with two out and runners on the corners after a double by Luke Langnes and an infield error that put Max Fink on base.
The Eagles loaded the bases when Wasilla reliever Jacob Hansen hit Eli Seaver with a pitch. Carter Stolp, who had struck out three times against Gilbert, worked Hansen for an RBI single to make it 2-1.
The bases were still loaded for Opinsky, who had struck out twice and popped up to first base in his previous at-bats. He stroked a long line-drive single that easily scored Fink and Seaver, shocking the Road Warriors.
A large overflow crowd watched from the parking lot. Capacity at Mulcahy was limited to 499 because of the city’s COVID-19 mitigation plan, a number reached before the first pitch was thrown.
Wasilla cruised into the title game after outscoring opponents 27-9 to go undefeated in four tournament games.
The Road Warriors appeared to be in good shape late in the game. Gilbert, the tournament MVP who shut out top-seeded Dimond on the tournament’s first day, threw six shutout innings while limiting West to one hit and four baserunners. He scored both of Wasilla’s runs to lead 2-0 going into the final inning.
League rules limit pitchers to 105 pitches, and Gilbert hit that limit four batters into the seventh inning.
The victory went to Fink, who entered in the sixth after West starter Leland Wilson hit the pitch limit the previous inning. Wilson turned in a stellar effort — 10 strikeouts while allowing two runs on four hits.
Fink was no slouch either. He gave up a leadoff walk to start the sixth but retired six batters in a row to silence the Road Warriors.
The victory avenged West’s 10-8 loss to Wasilla earlier in the tournament, and it came a day after the Eagles withstood a late rally by Eagle River to claim a 15-12 semifinal victory.
Wednesday’s game was a showdown between two teams trying to end long dry spells between state titles.
The Road Warriors’ last championship came in 1990, although this is their second straight title-game appearance — they lost to Juneau 13-8 in extra innings last year. Wasilla was disqualified from the 2018 tournament after failing to meet a deadline for providing proof of insurance.
West hadn’t played in a title game since 1988.
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