The Alaska Legion baseball playoffs got a dose of postseason drama and the first game hasn’t been played yet.
After Tuesday’s final slate of regular season games wrapped up, it was announced the following morning that three teams in the league — Wasilla, Ketchikan and Palmer — would be ineligible to participate after it was discovered those programs did not purchase the required insurance by the May 31 deadline.
Of those three teams, Wasilla was qualified to the state tournament as one of the top eight teams in the league, but will now be forced to play in the Matson Invitational, designated for the bottom eight teams.
Ketchikan, the ninth team, could have taken Wasilla’s place at the championship tournament, but because the Kings were also deemed ineligible, the final spot will now go to Kodiak.
The Post 20 Twins originally made it in as the eighth seed, but will now be bumped up to seventh in the double-elimination bracket after the intriguing drama, setting up an opening day matchup at 3:15 p.m. against second-seeded Dimond.
While it didn’t affect the Twins eligibility, Post 20 head coach Robb Quelland questioned the league’s decision to enact the ruling without the spirit of play in mind.
“I understand when adults don’t make the right decisions, but punishing the kids isn’t right,” Quelland said. “We’re punishing the kids for adults conduct. You know, punish the coaches, suspend them or whatever. Just don’t ruin it for the kids.”
The league insurance policy has been in place for 30 years, according to legion media director Van Williams, and is required by both American Legion Baseball and Alaska Legion.
While they won’t have a shot in the state championship tournament, the three disqualified teams will still get to end their season in the Matson, which will be contested concurrently with the state tournament.
Friday’s other opening day matchups will be No. 3 Chugiak and No. 6 Service at 10 a.m., No. 4 South and No. 5 West at 12:30 p.m., and No. 1 Juneau against No. 8 Kodiak at 6:15 p.m.
A win for the Twins today advances them to a 3:15 p.m. Saturday matchup against the winner of Chugiak and Service. A loss sends them to the loser-out bracket, which would require three victories to reach Tuesday’s championship game, scheduled for 3:15 p.m.
The state championship team qualifies for the Northwest Regional tournament in Missoula, Montana, from Aug. 8 to 12. The runner-up team heads to the NWCART tournament Aug. 10 to 14 in Lewiston, Idaho.
The changeup following the disqualifications is a good thing for the Twins, Quelland said. If not for the disqualifications, the Twins would have been matched up with No. 1 Juneau, a team they have not seen this year.
Instead, the local nine will get Dimond, a squad the Twins have played three times, losing league contests 6-2 and 4-1 and winning a nonleague game 7-2.
“The familiarity is nice, both times we played (Dimond) we were pretty even up most of the game,” Quelland said. “Each time, we went against the premier pitcher in the state.”
That “premier pitcher” is Jake Andresen, who has led the Lynx to a 21-7 overall record this summer. In his first meeting with the Twins on June 23, Andresen struck out seven and gave up four hits in a six-inning clinic, then whiffed nine in a complete game against the Twins on July 13.
Even with a losing record against Dimond this year, Quelland said the Lynx owe them one. The Twins were three outs away from shutting out Dimond in a July 13 game, but the Lynx rallied for four runs in the top of the seventh to score the win on Kenai’s home field.
Still, Quelland said it has given the Twins a darkhorse status, a team that could make a big run as the seven-seed.
“You’re talking about 18 league games we’ve played, we’ve lost just one of those games by more than four runs,” Quelland pointed out. The Twins’ lone league loss by more than four runs this year was an 11-1 dud against Wasilla last weekend.
Quelland hasn’t given word on who his starting pitcher will be against Dimond, but said after believing the squad would be matched up with top-ranked Juneau, the change to Dimond could force him to make some position changes.
“We’re feeling pretty confident, we match up pretty well,” he said. “We’ve been working on our stuff the last couple days, because it’s all about matchups.”
Quelland said the state favorite is unquestionably Juneau, which enters as the top seed with a 23-1 overall record, but cautioned that in a tournament like this weekend in which any team could bust out an upset, don’t count out the Twins.
“I don’t think anyone else wants to see us,” he said.
The Twins have several big games against good teams this year, including two wins over third-seeded Chugiak in June, including a 2-1 league win.
In games against fourth-seeded South, the Twins have two losses of 5-4 and 8-5 finals, and a nonleague tie.
The state qualification is also the 32nd consecutive appearance for the Twins, who have played in the state championship tournament in 48 of 49 years the Kenai legion program has been in existence. Twins general manager Lance Coz said 1986 was the lone year since the inaugural season in 1970 that the Twins missed out. The Twins have won four state titles in 1991, 1995, 2012 and 2016.
In their state title runs of 2012 and 2016, the Twins lost their opening game both times, but rallied in the loser-out bracket to take the championship.
“We have to go after it,” Quelland said. “We have nothing to lose, we’re playing with house money right now.”