The American Legion Twins lost to Chugiak 6-0 on Saturday at Mulcahy Park in Anchorage in coming up short of a fourth American Legion state championship.
Earlier Saturday, the Twins had defeated the Mustangs, the survivor of the winners’ bracket, 7-6 to force the if-necessary game Saturday night.
“We’re ecstatic,” Twins coach Robb Quelland said. “There’s not a team that’s gone as far as we did considering the circumstances we were forced to play under.”
The Twins had the first game of the tournament every day. They played single games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before playing doubleheaders Friday and Saturday. The Twins also had two games go to extra innings.
But that spirited run ran into Chugiak starter Jimmy Lanier in Saturday’s night game. He pitched a complete-game shutout to give the Mustangs their eighth state title.
Chugiak was the tournament favorite, having won the high school state title and having finished 17-1 in the Legion regular season.
The Twins fall to 3-3 in state title contests, and all of their last four forays to the state title game have been against the Mustangs.
The Twins beat the Mustangs in 1995 for their second state title before losing to Chugiak for all the marbles in 2008.
In 2012, the Twins also lost the first game of the state tournament, but won seven straight to take the title — the last two being 8-7 and 11-4 victories over Chugiak.
The Twins qualify for the NWCART Regional from Aug. 7 to 11 in Logan, Utah, while the Mustangs move on to the Northwest Regional from Aug. 5 to 9 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
In Saturday night’s game, Chugiak jumped out to a 4-0 lead after three innings, getting to starter Matthew Daugherty for four earned runs on four hits.
Daugherty had pitched eight innings in Friday’s 5-4, 11-inning victory over South.
“What we forced these young men to do the last three or four days was incredibly tough,” Quelland said. “Pitchers usually get three or four days off.
“When you come back on short rest, it’s not that you’re not trying, but sometimes it doesn’t come to fruition.”
Calvin Hills then came on in relief and held down Chugiak but the Twins’ bats could not get going.
“It was a great performance by Calvin Hills,” Quelland said. “We just weren’t able to score any runs.”
Hills gave up runs in the eighth and ninth inning, going 6 2-3 innings and yielding four hits while striking out six.
Josh Darrow, Kenny Griffin and Mason Prior had the hits for the Twins, who loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth in a last-ditch effort to avoid the shutout.
“Chugiak played flawless on defense,” Quelland said. “They proved why they were the best team in that game, but I think we can play with them every day.”
The Twins advanced to the Saturday night game thanks to Justice Miller working out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the top of the ninth inning in Saturday’s first game.
“I can never say enough about how impressed I am with the maturity and ability of Justice Miller,” said Quelland of the player who had a perfect fielding percentage for the tournament and won the Gold Glove. “He’s my go-to guy at any moment.
“He exemplifies the Twins’ way. He has leadership and he performs.”
The Twins went into the top of the ninth clinging to a 7-6 lead with Tommy Bowe on the hill. But Bowe started the inning by hitting a batter and walking a batter, and thus was lifted in favor of Miller.
Miller promptly loaded the bases with a walk, but then began to work his way out of the jam.
Miller coaxed Brady Lindberg into a grounder to second baseman Hills, who threw out the runner at home.
Jack Straub then worked a full count on Miller before popping out to Bowe at first base.
A ground ball by Sam Hanson to Hills then ended the game.
The Twins had taken a 7-2 lead after six innings before having to fight off the comeback attempt.
In the second inning, the Twins went up 3-0 and after Chugiak cut it to 3-2 in the top of the sixth, the Twins scored four more times in the bottom of the sixth.
Kyle Johnson turned in a solid start for the Twins, going five innings and giving up just two hits and no runs.
Klayton Justice when pitched 1 1-3 innings and gave up three hits and three earned runs, while Joey Becher pitched two-thirds of an inning and gave up three hits and three runs, Bowe pitched a scoreless inning and Miller had the scoreless inning.
At the plate, Darrow was 2 for 5 with three RBIs, Miller was 2 for 3, Tyler Covey was 2 for 2 and Hills was 2 for 3. Michael Swoboda and J.J. Sonnen each scored a pair of runs.
Friday, the Twins swept a crucial pair of elimination games, avenging Tuesday’s loss to South with a 5-4 victory in 11 innings over the Wolverines, then playing on to win a 3-2 game over Juneau in the afternoon.
“We’re not surprised we’re here for tomorrow,” Quelland said. “The boys packed for the whole week, this is an expectation.”
In an interesting twist, both games Friday were won on a bases-loaded walk. In the first game, Griffin scored the go-ahead run on a walk by Sonnen. In the second, it was Swoboda scoring the winner with a walk by Darrow.
Quelland said the team, which has been working through the comeback all while sleeping on a gym floor in Anchorage, has put together an “incredible team effort.”
After failing to draw a single walk against Fairbanks on Wednesday, Quelland said he was pleased to see the squad exhibit patience at the plate and work the count to score the winning runs in both games.
“We didn’t get too low or too high,” he said. “Right now, we’re just letting the boys be young men.”
In Friday’s early game, Bowe pitched well in relief with three scoreless innings, giving up only one hit. Bowe also led the charge at the plate with a home run in the sixth inning, extending the lead to 4-2.
“It’s all about being the next man up,” Quelland said. “We’ve moved some of the reserve players in the game, and they’ve stepped up.”
Daugherty started for the Twins and tossed eight innings, giving up three earned runs on nine hits, while walking no one.
After Bowe’s homer, South closed the gap with a run in the seventh and a tying homer by Sladen Mohl in the bottom of the eighth.
After ending the 10th inning with a double play, the Twins loaded the bases at the top of the 11th with a single from Griffin, a walk to Miller and a walk to Swoboda, setting up the winning walk to Sonnen.
In the second game of the day, Bowe came up big again at the plate, smacking a pair of doubles to lead the Twins.
After Bowe hit a double in the top of the third, he scored on a sacrifice fly by Jake Conver to push the Twins lead to 2-0. Juneau responded by plating two runs in the bottom of the frame.
Covey pitched six innings, giving up two runs on five hits and walking four, while striking out three. Miller came on in relief to finish with three shutout innings, giving up no hits and striking out two.
Quelland thanked the community for all the support, and gave a special thanks to general manager Lance Coz for doing the fundraising that makes Legion baseball possible.