River Bandits starting pitcher Breven Deckrosh delivers to the Post 20 Twins on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Ohio Legion squad brings top-flight competition to Kenai

Lance Coz would always say that if players had the talent and desire to get to the next level of baseball, he wanted an American Legion program that was good enough to get those players there.

Coz was pivotal in starting the Post 20 Twins program in 1975 and served as manager and head coach until his death in late September 2020 at 73. The Bill Miller/Lance Coz Wood Bat Tournament is showing that a Post 20 program giving players the best competition there is to offer has survived Coz’s passing.

Wednesday, the Twins completed pool play at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai by losing 11-0 in five innings to the Napoleon (Ohio) Post 300 River Bandits.

The Bandits finish pool play 3-0 and will face the Twins, 2-1 in pool play, in the championship at 9:30 a.m. today at Seymour Park. The Buffalo (Minnesota) Post 270 Cobras will play Bartlett for third place at 12:30 p.m. Minnesota defeated Bartlett 22-0 in Wednesday pool play. Both the Twins and Minnesota finished 2-1 in pool play, but the Twins won the head-to-head matchup to make the title game.

In getting to face the River Bandits twice, the Twins are getting to face a team that has designs on capturing the American Legion World Series this season.

“In my opinion, this is World Series or bust for us,” River Bandits general manager Randy Bachman said. “I mean, I’ve done this for 25 years. This is by far the best roster we’ve ever had.

“And we’ve made it to the World Series twice. Both times we went we had two good pitchers.”

The River Bandits double that this time, with four recent high school graduate pitchers committed to Division I programs. Luke Krouse is going to Bowling Green, Jackson Bergman is going to Toledo, DJ Newman is going to to Bowling Green and Jayden Jerger is going to Ohio.

“I realize we could get beat in a 3-2 or 2-1 game, I get that,” Bachman said. “But we also swing it. I mean, we score a lot of runs.”

The River Bandits showed off that offense Wednesday, getting to Riley Johnson for 11 runs — nine earned — on eight hits in 3 1-3 innings. Malakai Olson was able to keep Ohio off the board for 1 2-3 innings.

Breven Deckrosh has been one of those impressive hitters. He clouted two home runs in the Alaska 529 Midseason Classic in Anchorage, with the River Bandits claiming their record record fourth title Sunday.

Deckrosh also had a 400-foot blast against Minnesota on Tuesday in the wood bat tourney, but Wednesday he showed his pitching ability, shutting out the Twins for three innings on a hit. Abram Delano then stopped Post 20 on a hit over the final two innings.

Bachman said Deckrosh is one of the few players returning to the team after playing a year in college. Deckrosh plays at Owens Community College in Ohio.

“He’s a kid that should be playing Division I, but his senior year was COVID,” Bachman said. “He got missed as far as talentwise, because the kid can flat out hit.”

The River Bandits are on their 11th trip to Alaska. Bachman said he got to be friends with Coz due to all those trips.

“Lance was one of my favorite Alaskan people,” Bachman said. “It was a very sad day when I heard he had passed.

“Lance had a sense of humor. He was always giving me grief. Like at the banquet tonight. He’d always say something like, ‘Well, Randy’s been through the line twice already,’ or something to that effect. He always did, because he knew I’d take it all right.”

Twins coach Robb Quelland was happy with the way his team played Wednesday despite the loss.

“We just don’t get to see a lot of pitchers, even the guys up in Anchorage, we don’t have anything like that in the state of Alaska on a regular basis,” Quelland said.

Bachman said Ohio will start Newman, the team’s No. 1 pitcher, in the championship. Bachman said Newman sits at 87 to 90 mph.

Quelland said the Twins welcome the opportunity to see a quality pitcher like that.

“They’ll be better,” Quelland said of his team. “There’ll be a different game tomorrow. I mean, maybe the same result, but we’ll give it our best shot.”

The wood bat tournament hasn’t been held since 2019 due to the pandemic. This is the first tournament without Coz, who put a lot of work into organizing the tournament every year.

Quelland said Coz has been missed, but he also gave credit to all the players and parents for still coming together to put on a great event.

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