In the end, the Post 20 Twins reaped the rewards of their hard work.
The Twins captured the American Legion Alaska State Tournament crown Saturday night at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage, defeating the Post 28 Service Cougars in a dramatic 8-7 thriller.
The championship is the fourth in Twins program history, adding to titles won in 1991, 1995 and 2012.
In their quest to win the title, the Twins had to hold off a determined Service team that they had clobbered 17-1 earlier in the week.
After staking out a 5-0 lead after four innings, the Twins were left to watch as Service rallied back to tie it in the top of the eighth with reliever Calvin Hills on the mound.
Ultimately, Hills earned sweet redemption in the bottom of the frame, scoring the winning run on a ground-out bunt by Justice Miller. Hills led off with a single, then advanced on a wild pitch by Service pitcher Nicholas Hall to reach third.
“I had to make up for my mistakes,” Hills said. “I had to pay the team back.”
If the celebration that ensued after Hills touched home plate wasn’t ecstatic, the melee and dogpile that unfolded on the field after Gavin Petterson struck out Service’s last batter sure was.
Petterson finished off the final 1 1-3 innings, getting the last out of the eighth after Hills was pulled, then producing a gutsy performance in the top of the ninth, whiffing Service’s last three batters after issuing a leadoff walk.
“To be honest, it took a little focus, but I knew the guys behind me could cover me,” Petterson said. “It’s huge. I never thought we could be here, I never thought I could play on this team.”
As a fellow teammate and pitcher, Twins starter Joey Becher praised Petterson’s finish on the bump.
“I don’t know how he did it,” Becher said. “We were told by a coach to go out there with a little cockiness.”
A year ago, Post 20 clawed its way back through the second-chance bracket at the state tournament only to lose to Chugiak in the “if-necessary” championship game.
This year, there was no such comeback at state, as the second-seeded Twins made it to Friday as the lone unbeaten team over the week before losing to Juneau.
Meanwhile, Service had to go through No. 3 seed South, defending champs Chugiak and top-seeded Juneau to make it to Saturday’s title matchup.
“They beat all those other guys, so they were the Cinderella story,” Becher said. “We felt like this was a championship game, and it was tough.”
Becher pieced together a solid outing on the mound, going the first seven innings and giving up two earned runs on seven hits and six walks, while fanning seven. Becher kept Service scoreless until the sixth, when he began to tire out.
“I began to fade a little bit, but I tried to keep throwing fastballs down the middle,” he said.
Becher also credited catcher Kenny Griffin for giving him a good performance from behind the plate. Becher will be playing baseball at Treasure Valley Community College in the fall.
The championship also gave the Soldotna High School players on the team a bit of redemption. The successful 2016 Stars team fell flat at the prep state tournament in early June at the same field, failing to win a single game in a two-and-out performance.
Becher and Hills were a part of that Soldotna squad, and Saturday’s glory was made all the sweeter because of that.
“Oh yeah, it feels good,” Hills said.
“It’s a bit of redemption,” Becher added. “These are the best guys I could ask for”
Hills finished the day 3 for 4 from the plate with a double and two RBIs.
An RBI ground-out by Cody Quelland put the Twins on the board in the bottom of the first.
Steffensen then launched a deep leadoff triple to the left field wall in the bottom of the third, and was followed by a two-RBI double by Hills to push the lead to 3-0. Hills then scored on a ground-out by Becher for a 4-0 Twins advantage.
Service scored its first run in the top of the sixth on a fielder’s choice hit by Carsen Sandau, then added two more runs in the seventh to cut Post 20’s lead to 5-3.
Petterson notched an RBI single and J.J. Sonnen drew a bases-loaded walk to force in a run in the bottom of the seventh, moving the lead back up to 7-3.
However, Hills took the mound in the eighth in relief of Becher and did not enjoy a successful outing. Hills gave up three hits, two walks and hit two batters to allow four runs, the tying score coming on an RBI single by Service’s Derek Scroggins, who beat out the throw to first by Hills, tying the contest at 7-all.
With the title, the Twins qualify for The Northwest Regional Tournament in Cheyenne, Wyoming, from Aug. 3 to 7.