The South baseball team capped off its perfect 2021 high school season with a state title and was on the verge of doing the same in the American Legion summer season until an upset loss to Eagle River in the title game.
It was the only loss South suffered in the entire calendar year and at 23-0, the Wolverines enter this weekend’s Alaska State Division I Baseball Tournament as the prohibitive favorite.
Even though Eagle River failed to repeat the feat in four meetings so far this season, the Wolves like their chances if a potential fifth meeting were to occur at state.
“It’s always a good outing against South,” Eagle River head coach Bill Lierman said. “Even last year, we played tough against each other. They have an extremely great lineup and great pitching. They have some players that we just don’t have, but if we play a clean game, we can compete with them.”
Lierman says Eagle River (15-4) may not have a plethora of elite players or notable names, but the team’s players contribute at key moments.
“We don’t have huge stars but at the end of the day, we have a whole team of guys that are producing for us,” he said. “If you look up and down our lineup, there are different guys at different times that have done everything.”
Lierman said one weapon they do have, who has “a lot of tools,” is junior Joshua “JT” Thompson.
“JT is a solid player,” Lierman said. “He’s always in the game, competitive and he’s a great athlete. He’s a game-changer and there’s only a handful of those guys in our league. He is one of those guys.”
He said Thompson can impact the game in a multitude of ways including on the mound, in the outfield, on base and at the plate.
The Wolves played the Wolverines three times in the regular season and in the CIC regional title game. While they were all losses, they decreased their margin of defeat each time. The first matchup was a 9-0 South win. Then the two teams played a doubleheader in mid-May and South won 6-1 in the first game and 3-1 in the second. In Thursday’s CIC title game, Eagle River gave the defending state champs quite the scare before ultimately falling 3-2.
“After our first nonleague game against South, our coach was not too happy,” Thompson said. “We had a bunch of errors. It was definitely a bad game.”
Thompson said the team had the right attitude in the second game of the doubleheader and that they were all motivated to perform better.
“I think it goes back to last year,” he said. “We lost to them every single time. They were undefeated until the last game we played them and we really brought it all together. We beat them by one, had zero errors and it was the best game I think we ever had against South.”
Lierman is in his second season as the head coach at Eagle River and this summer will be his third season as their head coach in American Legion. He coached at Chugiak the previous 13 years and said last year’s title-winning Legion run gave the team invaluable experience in one key area.
“I think that is something that our program hadn’t been able to do for a long time, especially before I got there,” Lierman said. “I think the kids are learning what it takes to win close games.”
Thompson said that the biggest takeaway for him from the team’s title was about being more resilient and believing in themselves.
“Just don’t give up,” Thompson said. “For the Legion season last year we didn’t think we were going to make it to the state tournament.”
He said the team had a couple rough games heading into the playoffs but leadership from players and their coach brought the team back together.
This year’s team is confident in their ability to contend for a state championship.
“We definitely have confidence both individually and as a team,” Lierman said. “I think we’re getting better and better as every week goes on.”
Alaska State Division I Baseball Tournament
At Mulcahy Stadium
Sitka vs. Eagle River, 10 a.m.
Colony vs. Service, 1 p.m.
Wasilla vs. Chugiak, 4 p.m.
South vs. Ketchikan, 7 p.m.
Loser Sitka/Eagle River vs. Loser Wasilla/Chugiak, 10 a.m.
Loser Colony/Service vs. Loser South/Ketchikan, 1 p.m.
Winner Sitka/Eagle River vs. Winner Wasilla/Chugiak, 4 p.m.
Winner Colony/Service vs. Winner South/Ketchikan, 7 p.m.
4th/6th place, 10 a.m.
3rd/5th place, 12:30 p.m.
Championship, 3:30 p.m.