A Friday night clash between the top two seeds in the American Legion Alaska State Tournament had all the makings of a classic, and the hype delivered on its promise.
However, for the Post 20 Twins, it came in the form of a loss. Top seed Juneau handed the Twins their first loss of the tournament with a convincing 7-1 win.
Oddly enough, the win for Post 25 did not send Juneau into Saturday’s championship game, but instead into a 3 p.m. matchup against Service, which beat Wasilla 5-4 on Friday. The Twins assured they would be in Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. championship game with the Service-Juneau winner by entering Friday’s game undefeated.
But Twins coach Robb Quelland knows there is no room for error in that Saturday game if the Twins wish to add to state titles won in 1991, 1995 and 2012.
“We’re gonna have to go after it,” Quelland said after Friday’s loss. “It’s do or die for us.”
Juneau cruised to the victory via the arm of starting right-hander Phil Wall, who pitched a complete game, giving up just three hits and four walks.
“He’s a heck of a pitcher,” said Juneau coach Joe Tompkins. “He lost the first game (against Wasilla), but he knew we were here to fight.”
Wall was perfect through the first three innings and had a no-hitter going through the first seven. It wasn’t until Twins starter Tyler Covey just beat out a grounder to shortstop to record a single in the top of the eighth that the Twins notched their first hit.
But at that point, Post 20 found itself in a deep 7-run hole, and even for a team that has been known to pull off the occasional comeback this summer, it proved to be too much. Juneau outhit the Twins 13 to 3.
“(Wall) just threw us off-balance,” Quelland said. “We were trying different things, trying to do something different, but he was just overpowering us.”
In their final opportunity at a rally in the top of the ninth, the Twins gave it everything they had. Josh Darrow poked a grounder through shortstop, then stole second. Paul Steffensen then brought Darrow home on a huge RBI double to center field, closing Juneau’s lead to 7-1.
Calvin Hills and Matthew Daugherty both drew walks to load the bases, but Wall ended the game with a strikeout of Covey.
“We knew we had to fight,” Tompkins said about the Twins, even though the two teams hadn’t yet met this summer. “(The Twins) are go-getters, and they just don’t give up.”
Wall fanned six batters in his complete outing, but gave credit to his defense, which time and again kept the Twins baserunners off the bags with crisp infield work.
“I trust my guys, and they were outstanding today,” Wall said. “Our third baseman Donavin (McCurley) came up with a huge play and (shortstop) Zeb (Storie) got a dagger for an out.”
Wall was perfect through 3 1-3 innings, but a walk issued to Steffensen broke that streak. However, Steffensen was retired in a rundown between second and third following a ground-out by Kenny Griffin, resulting in a double play that ended the inning.
Quelland attributed the defensive masterpiece by Juneau to Wall’s penchant at getting ahead in the pitch count, as well as a few costly mistakes and missed opportunities at putouts by Post 20.
“When the ones that are expected to hit aren’t hitting, it’s hard for the others to feed off it,” he said.
Juneau beat Service in two matchups this season, so a title game date with the Midnight Suns could be in the works for the Twins.
Twins starter Covey finished the day with nine hits and one walk given up in five frames of action. JJ Sonnen finished off with three innings of relief, giving up a run on two hits and one strikeout.
Juneau got off to a fast start with a leadoff single by McCurley and a double by Storie. A dropped third-strike call by Michael Cesar allowed McCurley to score the first run, and a sacrifice fly by Finn Collins scored Storie.