The air hung thick in the twilight at Mulcahy Stadium last July as Legion AA Twins reliever Gavin Petterson stepped onto the mound just three outs away from a wild state championship victory.
Petterson made his ninth-inning appearance on the mound following the go-ahead redemption run scored by the Twins’ Calvin Hills, who had just wasted a four-run lead in the top of the eighth in a relief appearance on the mound.
In the closeout half of the ninth, Petterson walked Service’s leadoff batter, but retired the final three with swift pitching to secure the state crown.
Post 20 head coach Robb Quelland said the tough combination of stout pitching and clutch hitting from the 2016 Twins squad was what carried them to the championship.
“From the top of the lineup to the bottom, all those players did their role,” Quelland said in a recent interview. “They complemented each other from the first batter to the last. There was no one on the bench we were worried about playing.”
The hold-your-breath finish capped a dominant 32-win season for the Post 20 Twins, who return in 2017 in hopes of a fifth state championship in program history, adding to ones won in 1991, 1995, 2012 and last summer. The Twins open their title defense with a noon doubleheader Saturday against Fairbanks Post 30 in Anchorage.
The going will be tough, however, as the Twins face not only a target on their backs as the defending state champions, but also as they search for a reliable pitching rotation.
Gone from the 2016 squad are three aces that had eligibility this summer; Soldotna’s Joey Becher, a standout ace that tossed three no-hitters for last year’s high school and legion teams, but will be playing for the Peninsula Oilers of the Alaska Baseball League this summer, Soldotna’s Matthew Daugherty, a recent graduate that will be playing summer collegiate ball for the Klamath Falls Gems in Oregon, and Petterson of Kenai Central, who will also be playing summer ball outside the state.
Overall, Post 20 lost nine players from last season. Quelland said that will make things really tough with the newly instituted pitch count rules.
“They’re even more stringent than high school rules,” he said. “It really limits you.
“Those are two really strong, capable pitchers.”
Having played in the previous two state championship finals, the Twins have become accustomed to deep state tournament runs, but they will have to dig deep to make it three years in a row.
“We’re quite a bit younger than last year,” Quelland said.
Post 20 returns just four players from last year, but all four have the credentials to get another state title run going. Included in the mix is catcher Kenny Griffin, a 2016 SoHi grad who Quelland said could be seeing more time in the infield and outfield this year, 2016 SoHi grad and relief pitcher Calvin Hills, 2017 Kenai Central grad and power hitter Paul Steffensen, and 2017 SoHi grad and catcher Cody Quelland.
Griffin spent the winter playing hockey outside the state, while Hills worked on the peninsula. Quelland said Hills will be missing the end of the legion season after signing up to join the Army.
The current rotation for the Twins includes no left-handers, but Quelland said he has faith in his lineup, which includes Adam Brinster from Homer, Logan Smith from SoHi, Cody Quelland, Steffensen, Griffin and Hills. Mose Hayes and Seth Adkins from Homer will also provide help.
Quelland said the team camaraderie that helped the Twins win it all last summer seems to be back this year.
“Most of these guys play with each other for years on end, or I have coached them, so we all know each other before the season starts,” Quelland said. “Last year, every game was fun, but you saw the young men grow, and the way they grew and behaved and their attitude was great.”
Joining Quelland on the coaching staff is former SoHi player Dallas Pierren as pitching coach, Gary Oliver as bench coach and manager Lance Coz.