Making his first appearance for the American Legion Twins this week, J.J. Sonnen was tasked with handling a tough group of hitters from Columbia, Tennessee.
With the way he pitched, it was hard to believe he was just two days removed from having his wisdom teeth pulled.
Sonnen pitched the first three innings of Thursday’s championship game at the Bill Miller Big Fish Wood Bat tournament at the Kenai Little League fields, giving up six hits and two earned runs in a 3-2 loss to Tennessee Post 19, which was crowned tournament champions. The Twins finished 2-2 in the tournament.
It was only Tuesday that Sonnen had his surgery, but the Homer player answered the call from Twins coach Robb Quelland to take the mound for the title appearance.
“Yeah, it bothered me a little, but I’ve been on painkillers since (the surgery),” Sonnen said. “It was a quick recovery.”
Quelland said he asked Sonnen Thursday morning after the Twins’ 13-3 victory over Eagle River if he could make the start, and Sonnen did not hesitate with his answer.
“We tested him today, and it goes to show what a solid player he is,” Quelland said. “He threw some solid innings, and we needed that. We needed every last one of our bench guys today.”
Sonnen said he welcomed the challenge that Post 19 presented him, and Tennessee certainly provided him a tough time.
“I had to settle down a bit, because that’s a good-hitting team,” he said.
After losing a 3-0 shutout to Tennessee on the opening day of the tournament Tuesday, the Twins were looking for every last bit of pitching strength to outlast Columbia. Ultimately, it came down to a three-run rally from Tennessee in the bottom of the first.
Post 20 took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first with an RBI single from Kenny Griffin, but the Outside visitors answered quickly with a pair of leadoff singles.
Tennessee tied the game at one run apiece on a balk by Sonnen which brought Bryce Giles home to score. A sacrifice fly from Chris Short scored a run and gave Tennessee a 2-1 lead, and Boone Sweeney brought home another run with an RBI single to left field. Sweeney ended the day 3 for 3 from the plate.
“This is the first time all year we’ve used wood bats,” said Tennessee coach Garrett Ammons. “Plus, it’s about thirty degrees warmer at home.”
The Twins put two runners in scoring position in the third inning with one out, but a pair of groundouts by Calvin Hills and Joey Becher stopped the potential comeback. In the top of the fourth, a nifty double play by Tennessee from second to first base ended the inning for Post 20.
The Twins finally got another run on the board in the fifth frame when Josh Darrow grounded out to score Cody Quelland, who originally got on base with a leadoff walk, but Griffin flied out to end any attempted rally.
Paul Steffenson produced the defensive highlight of the day for the Twins in the bottom of the fifth when he recorded the second out of the inning on a stellar diving catch in center field.
However, Tennessee put one of it’s hardest-throwing pitchers on the mound to earn the save, which Colton Easterwood did by striking out the final two batters.
Thursday morning, Post 20 had to earn its spot in the championship by beating Eagle River 13-3. The Twins scored five runs in the first inning to cruise to the win, highlighted by a two-RBI single by Terrence Slats.
Columbia, Tennessee — which plays in a town of 35,000 situated about 45 miles outside Nashville — controlled play with a 4-0 record over the three-day, rain-plagued tournament, which contested all of its games at the little league fields instead of Coral Seymour Memorial Park, which was deemed unplayable due to a water-saturated field.
Thursday’s games were played under sunny skies, a welcome relief for all parties.
“It was beautiful today, the hospitality was nice, and the umps and coaches we’re wonderful,” Ammons said. “We totally enjoyed it.”
Both the Twins (21-4 overall this summer) and Tennessee (22-5) will be traveling to Anchorage for the BP Invitational tournament at Mulcahy Stadium. The Twins begin with a 2:15 p.m. rematch with South Post 4, which is the only legion squad to beat Post 20 in league play this summer, getting the better of the Twins in a 7-2 game on July 2.
“I think we’re starting to see ourselves come better prepared and we’re starting to click,” coach Quelland said. “We’ve got 28 innings to play (in Anchorage) and we’ll get good experience with the lineups.”
Sonnen said he anticipates Friday’s game with South, which he feels is an opportunity to exact some measure of revenge.