The Alaska Division I State Baseball Tournament got off to an exciting start on Thursday at Mulcahy Stadium as the first three games went down to the wire and featured thwarted comeback attempts.
Service battled back to force Colony into an eighth inning but the Knights ultimately prevailed 5-4. The second game didn’t go into extra innings but was just as dramatic at the end as Sitka pulled off an impressive 8-6 upset over Eagle River.
“This has been four wins in a row like that for us,” Sitka coach Kenny Carly said. “Regions we did the same thing in all three games to get here.”
Both teams have the same mascot, the Wolf, with the Southeastern Conference Champion Sitka proving to be the better on the day.
“It started out tough, we kept battling, lost the lead, got it back and closed it up,” Carly said.
Sitka jumped out to an early 3-0 lead after four innings as Eagle River struggled to find its footing at-bat. Eagle River scored a pair in the top of the fifth inning but Sitka extended its lead to 4-2 by adding one in the bottom of the fifth.
The sixth inning is where the game really began to heat up. Eagle River came roaring back to tie and take the lead with four runs in the top of the frame that included a two-run RBI by senior outfielder Charles Wallace.
Sitka answered with a quartet of runs of its own on a pair of two-run RBI hits, the second of which came courtesy of freshman infielder Tanner Steinson in his state tournament debut.
“It’s a lot to take in,” Steinson said. “I feel like I did my part today for my team.”
His clutch play at the bottom of the sixth gave his team the opportunity to end the game at the top of the seventh, which they did without allowing another run.
“We never gave up and we just kept trying,” Steinson said. “That’s what I like about this team. I had a lot of faith in our team and knew we could pull out this win.”
Colony was the runner-up in last year’s state tournament and fended off a ferocious late rally by the Cougars to keep title hopes alive on Thursday morning.
“The first game of the season the kids were jittery and tight, the first game of regions the kids are jittery and tight and it’s over and over again,” Colony coach Jordan Chadwell said. “You’d think they’d learn but they’re just kids and (a win) loosens them up a little bit.”
Led by senior starting catcher Bryant Marks, Colony got out to a 4-1 lead through six innings after he recorded a three-run RBI hit and scored a run himself in the bottom of the third.
“I was just seeing the ball today and it felt pretty good in the box and behind the dish,” Marks said. “I was doing my thing and having fun.”
The Cougars gave the Knights quite the scare when they managed to tie the game 4-4 at the top of the seventh inning to force an eighth after Service sophomore infielder Jake Rafferty drove in two and crossed the plate with the game-tying score himself.
Marks brought his teammates to the mound for a meeting after Service tied the game and shared some encouraging words that inspired them to calm their nerves and keep their collective composure.
“I definitely saw the intensity that the boys had but (were) just a little skittish,” Marks said. “With the situation, there were a lot of guys that were really nervous so I just tried to get the nerves out of the guys.”
He took matters into his own hands at the top of the eighth when he recorded a hit and what went on to be the game winning run an RBI from sophomore infielder Brayden Parrent.
“He’s always had a good head on his shoulders and he is a competitor,” Chadwell said. “He wants to win and we’ve talked a lot about getting the team going and engaged.”
In the third game of the day, Wasilla kept on taking leads and Chugiak kept on rallying.
The final rally in the top of the seventh inning gave the Mustangs a 7-5 win and a ticket to Friday’s semifinal.
Preston Rau pitched six solid innings for the Mustangs. Despite giving up five runs, only two were earned.
“I was just focused on playing my game,” he said. “They did a good job offensively and defensively.”
Wasilla scored in the bottom of the first inning, but Chugiak responded with two in the top of the third to take a 2-1 lead. Wasilla responded with two runs of their own in the bottom of the third to go back up 3-2.
Chugiak grabbed the lead back in the fourth and extended it to 5-3 in the sixth inning.
But Alex Bond plated two in the bottom of the sixth for Wasilla to tie the game back up at 5-5.
Chugiak junior Seth Strange said staying loose helped the team overcome the roller-coaster swings.
“Pretty key, especially near the end,” Strange said. “Like coach said, ‘Just take a deep breath and go play baseball.’ "
Strange was part of the rally in the top of the seventh to give Chugiak the lead for good.
Tyler Cage and Fischer Sims reached on singles before Gabe Gruszynski singled in the go-ahead run. Strange brought Sims in for a 7-5 advantage.
Getting the two-run cushion was huge, Rau said.
“It’s huge,” Rau said. “I have so much confidence in Jayden (Steckel) and knew he was going to shut the door.”
South High started slow in Thursday’s first round, but once the defending state champ got going, it really got going. Ketchikan forged a 1-0 lead after one inning but South scored in every other inning to take an 11-1 win.
South hitters did plenty of damage up and down the order. Oliver Brown and Ben Neuberger each drove in three runs. Curtis Hebert and Skyler Sugita each had two hits.
Alaska State Division I Baseball Tournament
At Mulcahy Stadium
Sitka 8, Eagle River 6
Chugiak 7, Wasilla 5
Colony 5, Service 4 (8 innings)
South 11, Ketchikan 1 (6 innings)
Eagle River vs. Wasilla, 10 a.m.
Colony vs. Ketchikan, 1 p.m.
Sitka vs. Chugiak, 4 p.m.
Colony vs. South, 7 p.m.
4th/6th place, 10 a.m.
3rd/5th place, 12:30 p.m.
Championship, 3:30 p.m.
Alaska State Division II Baseball Tournament
At Wasilla High School Field
North Pole 7, Kenai Central 3
Soldotna 15, Grace Christian 1
Petersburg 19, Monroe Catholic 6
Kodiak 4, Palmer 3
Kenai Central vs. Grace Christian, 11 a.m.
Palmer vs. Monroe Catholic, 1:30 p.m.
North Pole vs. Soldotna, 4 p.m.
Kodiak vs. Petersburg, 6:30 p.m.
4th/6th place, 10 a.m.
3rd/5th place, 12:30 p.m.
Championship, 3 p.m.