Baseball can be a rollercoaster, according to Service Post 28 coach Willie Paul.
On Monday in the American Legion state semifinals, the ups outweighed the downs for his team in an 8-7 win over Kenai Post 20.
The Cougars found themselves down early, trailing the Post 20 Twins 3-0 after the second inning at Mulcahy Stadium. Both teams scored runs in the third before Service’s bats exploded in the top of the fourth to the tune of seven runs on six hits.
The Cougars led by four runs at the end of the inning but their bats went ice cold after Kenai made some timely adjustments and nearly mounted a comeback of its own.
“You’ll have your ups and downs,” Paul said. “We really came alive in that one inning. We tried to battle. They kind of figured some stuff out that really shut us down for a few more innings. A couple insurance runs would’ve really been nice but to have our pitching stay intact and our defense play really well down the stretch was the big thing.”
Leading the charge at bat for the Cougars was shortstop and relief pitcher, Sean Giffen. The 2022 graduate is the oldest member on a young team and broke a 4-4 tie with a three-run double.
“He is the one senior on the team and for him to be able step up and really lead these young guys and lead by example has been huge,” Paul said.
A day removed from nearly pitching a complete game to help Service move on to the semifinals, Giffen helped his team punch its ticket to its first state championship game in five years and his second of the summer.
“I was battling, trying to do something for my team, trying to put the ball in play, get that runner from third to score and put a decent swing on it and it dropped and found a gap,” Giffen said.
He won back-to-back high school state titles with the South Anchorage Wolverines but plays for the Cougars during the Legion season because he lives in their zone. Despite their youth and inexperience, he believes Service is capable of winning it all.
“It would mean a lot because this group of guys is really special,” Giffen said. “They’re a young group but definitely has what it takes to win a championship.”
He got a little too aggressive with his base-running and got tagged out trying to steal third base.
“I kind of killed the momentum a little bit,” Giffen said. “I was just trying to take an extra bag and it didn’t workout but we still came out on top.”
While one of their most experienced players gave them their first lead, one of their youngest closed out the game and secured the victory on the mound for the Cougars in the bottom of the seventh.
Soon-to-be sophomore Landon Martindale came on to the field in relief of teammate Michael Sculley with the bases loaded and was able to help his team advance to the finals with some clutch pitching late.
“That’s huge, just to come in and throw strikes and be able to locate his breaking pitch,” Paul said. “He came in and played like a senior right there.”
In the other semifinal game, Eagle River defeated South 9-5 in battle of last year’s two title game competitors. In 2021, Eagle River topped South 1-0 in the championship and will look to defend its title Tuesday against Service at 5:30 p.m. at Mulcahy Stadium.
Much like Service, Eagle River was bolstered by a seven-run inning. In the bottom of the sixth, Eagle River exploded for seven to turn a 5-2 deficit into a semifinal win. Relief pitcher Dalton Smith closed the door on South in the top of the seventh inning to secure the victory.