When the American Legion Twins showed up at the state tournament last season to defend their crown, only two starters remained from the 32-win juggernaut that won the organization’s fourth state title in 2016.
The local nine promptly lost two games and was out of the tournament. At the time, coach Robb Quelland said it was still a valuable experience for all the young players to make the tournament as the eighth and last seed.
This is the year Quelland is hoping that experience pays off, with the 32-game, regular-season slate starting today with a noon doubleheader against Bartlett at the Kenai Little League fields.
“Every season has high expectations,” said Quelland, whose squad finished 17-15 overall last season. “We look like we’re going to have a good team. We have quite a few veteran players.”
The Twins sport five players who have already graduated from high school — Paul Steffensen, Cody Quelland, Logan Smith, Austin Asp and Adam Brinster.
The good news for the Twins — both Steffensen and Quelland were on the first team of the American Legion Baseball Team of Excellence. The bad news for the Twins — both Steffensen and Quelland will not be able to spend the full season with the team.
Steffensen was the MVP of the state tournament when the Twins won it all in 2016. Steffensen just finished his freshman season at Mesa Community College, where he hit .404 to take the batting title in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference. He had a league-high 84 hits in 54 games, with a league-leading 10 triples. He also reeled off a 26-game hitting streak.
“He was pretty good last year and he’s only gotten better,” Quelland said. “He was probably the best on our team and then he went to college and had the season he had.”
Steffensen plays infield, outfield and could pitch, but Quelland said he will be with the team on a part-time basis due to other obligations.
Cody Quelland was just named the MVP of the Southcentral Conference during his senior campaign at Soldotna, but he will have to leave the team on June 28 to enroll at West Point.
“We’re going to have to try and make a No. 2 catcher, because for half the season, he’s gone,” Robb said of his son.
The coach said Smith and Brinster will be the co-No. 1 pitchers for the team. Both also can play corner positions on the infield and in the outfield.
Asp made all-conference for Soldotna High School as a senior in 2017, but then elected not to spend the summer playing for the Twins. He will add pitching, corner infield and outfield help to the team this season.
Jeremy Kupferschmid and David Michael also bring valuable experience to the team. Kupferschmid can play outfield and pitch, while Michael is a middle infielder and can play a little outfield.
“It really gets young after that,” Quelland said. “We have quite a few new players and younger players that will enhance the team.”
The trick for Quelland, as always, will be knitting together a roster of 16 with players from Soldotna, Kenai Central and Homer high schools.
“That’s the makeup of the Twins,” the coach said. “All the young men for one team. They check their egos and positions at the door and do what works best for our team.”
Quelland feels good in nearly all aspects of the game. With pitching, he says having four high school starters in Smith, Asp, Brinster and Kupferschmid is a great place to start.
“We also have a lot of younger players that have pitched varsity level games,” he said.
On offense, Quelland loves the bats of Steffensen, Quelland, Kupferschmid, Michael, Brinster, Asp and Smith. The coach said it’s up to the young players to provide some pop from the bottom of the order.
Quelland said the team is well-stocked at each position on defense, except for catcher.
“The coaching staff is going to have to train and get guys up to speed on that No. 2 catching position,” he said. “That’s the only place we’re lacking in depth.”
The coach also gave special thanks to Lance Coz, the team’s general manager, for once again doing what it takes to keep the team going.
“What he’s brought to all these young men is incredible,” Quelland said.