The second night of the Cook Inlet Conference baseball tournament Tuesday at Mulcahy Stadium featured impressive performances from a pair of juniors that helped their respective teams advance to the next round Thursday.
In the first game of the night, fourth-seeded Chugiak bested fifth-seeded Dimond for the second time this season thanks in large part to Preston Rau’s stout performance on the mound as he pitched a complete game in the Mustangs’ 9-3 victory over the Lynx.
“Honestly, I was pretty scared because Dimond is a really good team,” he said. “I was super nervous coming into it but I have so much confidence in my team behind me and I just knew we could pull it off.”
His impressive outing included four innings in which only he faced the minimum number of Lynx batters. He also six straight batters twice.
“I was focused on just throwing strikes and letting my defense just do what they needed to do,” Rau said.
Chugiak found itself trailing 2-1 heading into the bottom of the third but would capitalize on a trio of errors by Dimond to retake the lead at 4-2.
“Our big thing is to just stay up the entire game and when you get an error just forget about it and that’s what we did,” Rau said. “When they (made errors), we just capitalized.”
His older brother Hunter Rau brought a pair of runners home with a hit in the bottom of the sixth inning to stretch the Mustangs’ lead to 8-3. Senior Seth Strange tacked on their ninth and final run following a hit from junior Landon Luebke.
Chugiak will face top-seeded Eagle River for the fifth time this season in the second of the two semifinal games on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
In the second game of Tuesday night, third-seeded Service beat sixth-seeded West for the fourth time this season thanks to the tremendous contributions of junior catcher Coen Niclai who starred behind the plate and at the plate in the Cougars’ 7-1 victory over the Eagles.
“We did a great job as a team, stayed focused, and finished the game out,” he said. “Last year we barely even made it into the tournament and now we’re ... trying to push for that championship.”
Niclai was responsible for the team’s first run of the game after he brought home junior pitcher Owen Hickman in the opening inning and finished with five total RBIs, later blasting a ball over the leftfield fence with the bases loaded for a grand slam.
“I felt good coming into the game,” he said. “I felt like we did a really good job defensively and a good job overall.”
After he helped Service establish the early lead, the second and third innings would go on to be scoreless before Landon Martindale brought home fellow sophomore Sebastian Fournier for an RBI single in the bottom of the fourth inning.
The two teams traded runs in the fifth to make it 3-1 heading into the sixth after West sophomore Paul Dittrich brought home junior Orion Halliburton on a RBI single and Service Jake Rafferty did the same for fellow junior Hunter Christian on a sac fly.
“I think our pitchers just stayed on top of it,” Niclai said. “We stayed good and mentally tough. I think our hitters did a really good job putting the ball in play for the next guy.”
Up next for the Cougars is their third matchup of the season with Hillside rival and two-time defending state champion South Anchorage in the first of the two semifinal games on Thursday at 5 p.m.
“I think we have to stay mentally focused,” Niclai said. “I think they’re a pretty good team, and I think we’re a great team as well. We just need to put the ball in play and just have a great game.”