The American Legion Twins dropped both of their games on the opening day of the 37th edition of the Bill Miller Wood Bat Tournament in Kenai.
The Twins opened their tournament by falling 3-2 to Excelsior Post 259 from Minneapolis. The local nine then lost 10-1 to the Lone Peak Post 19 Misfits from Highland, Utah.
In other tournament games, East defeated Bartlett 6-1, Excelsior toppled Lone Peak 6-1, Columbia (Tennessee) Post 19 defeated East 14-1 and Tennessee topped Bartlett 18-0.
Today, East plays Excelsior at 9 a.m. and Tennessee plays Lone Peak at noon in semifinals at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai. The Twins go up against Bartlett at 11 a.m. at the Kenai Little League fields.
In the game against Excelsior at Coral Seymour Memorial Park, the Twins received a big effort on the mound from Harold Ochea but could not come up with the key hit in falling.
Ochea went all seven innings for the Twins, giving up three runs — two earned — on five hits while walking two and striking out one.
Twins coach Robb Quelland said Ochea was chosen for the start because he throws strikes and because his lack of velocity had a chance to throw off Excelsior’s veteran lineup. Coach Rob Hager said his Minneapolis squad has one returning college player, 12 who just graduated from high school and four players who will be entering their senior year.
Excelsior took a 2-0 lead in the top of the second inning when Mason Nadolney led off with a walk and Jack Hanson, who finished 2 for 3, followed by crushing a home run off the left-field foul pole.
“He kept them off-balance, except for the home run,” Quelland said of Ochea. “That wasn’t off-balance. That was legit.”
Other than that, Ochea gave up a lot of titanic moon shots that sailed deep into the blue sky above cavernous Seymour Park and nestled in the gloves of Twins outfielders.
“We have guys capable of hitting gaps and putting it out,” Hager said. “They were lifting the ball a little too much, but that two-run home run was nice.”
Quelland also pointed out that swinging wood bats helped keep Excelsior in check.
“It brings baseball back to realism when you swing wood bats,” he said. “A lot of players live vicariously through aluminum bats and the bigger sweet spot.”
The Twins coach said the wood bats slowed down more than Excelsior, though. Quelland said the local nine, with the exception of Paul Steffensen, had trouble driving the ball consistently out of the infield. Steffensen finished 2 for 4.
That kept the Twins from getting the big hit that would have changed the game.
In the second inning, the Twins loaded the bases with two away but Excelsior starter Will LaLonde struck out Ochea.
In the third, the Twins cut the lead to 2-1 when Steffensen led off with a triple to right center then scored on a grounder by Austin Asp. Post 20 then had a runner on third with two outs, but LaLonde struck out Jeremy Kupferschmid.
In the fifth, Harrison Metz led off with a single and eventually scored on an error by third baseman Nadolney that left runners at second and third with one away and the score at 3-2.
Hager summoned Will Sturek to the mound and he struck out Kupferschmid and David Michael to end the threat.
“He’s done really well for us this year in relief,” Hager said of Sturek, who picked up his third save. “He’s tough to hit and he gets a lot of strikeouts.
“He’s our guy when it comes to getting out of trouble like that.”
Sturek then slammed the door on the Twins over the final two innings, with an assist from catcher Ian Masui, who threw out Steffensen as he was trying to steal third base in the sixth.
“The keys were our pitchers didn’t have a lot of walks, made them put it in play and got strikeouts when they needed them,” Hager said.
Hager also thanked the Twins for their hospitality and said his team is having a great time in Alaska. Monday, the squad and families took a six-hour glacier tour out of Seward, with blue, sunny skis the whole time.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said.
In the loss to Lone Peak, the Twins got off to a slow start and could not recover.
“We gave up three extra outs in the first inning and they went up by four,” Quelland said.
The coach said spotting a team like Lone Peak a 4-0 lead in a seven-inning game using wood bats is not a good idea.
“They’re a good team,” he said. “They just out-hit us and outplayed us in the second game.
“It was good for the young kids to see that. It gives them aspirations of what they want to be.”
Austin Asp gave up six runs in five innings for the Twins, while Logan Smith yielded four runs without recording an out and Austin Ceccarelli pitched two scoreless innings.
Trapper Thompson led the Twins at the plate by going 2 for 3.
Justin Wood got the victory for Lone Peak, pitching 4 1-3 innings and giving up a run on four hits.
On offense, Matt Barney was 3 for 5 with two runs, Trey Gambill was 2 for 3 with three runs and Sam Norman was 2 for 3 with two runs.