American Legion Twins pitcher Joey Becher showed how far he has come in the past year in securing a key league victory over South in baseball action Wednesday at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai.
Becher persevered through a couple of thorny situations in the late innings to lock down a 3-2 victory over the defending legion state champs and the state runner-ups from this spring’s high school season.
In the second game, a nonleague contest, South notched a 7-5 win.
The Twins moved to 4-5 in the league and 9-7 overall, while South is 5-3 and 7-4.
When asked if he could have navigated Wednesday’s late innings last season, Becher, who will be a senior at Soldotna High School in the fall, was unequivocal.
“No way,” he said. “Not a chance. I was too inexperienced.”
Twins coach Gary Oliver also said Becher has improved over the course of a year.
“He said it, I didn’t,” Oliver said. “But, yea, he’s doing a good job this year.”
The game matched Becher, a 6-foot-4 righty, with South’s Tommy Koloski, a 6-foot-5 righty. Becher gave up two unearned runs on five hits while Koloski also went the distance, allowing just one earned run on four hits.
The Twins took advantage of Koloski’s slow start in the first inning. JJ Sonnen and Calvin Hills walked to start the game, then Josh Darrow singled to score Sonnen.
Tommy Bowe then grounded out to third, but Hills scored when the throw from first to home was dropped by catcher Brendon Hayhurst. Darrow moved to third on the play and would score on a grounder by Kenny Griffin.
“It was nice pitching with that lead,” Becher said.
Those three runs would be all Becher would get.
In the fifth inning, a walk, two wild pitches, a passed ball and two errors led to runs by Lian Lincoln and Bryce Schwarz to cut the gap to 3-2.
But Becher recovered to retire 3 of 4 in the sixth.
“I wanted to go all seven,” Becher said. “Coach said he would see how I was doing after the sixth.”
In the top of the seventh, pinch hitter Hunter Johnson started the inning with a single, but Lincoln then hit into a double play. However, singles by Parker Johnson and Jonny Holmza, and a walk by Koloski, loaded the bases with two outs.
Hayhurst then hit a tailing liner to right which Mason Prior snatched from the air with a diving catch.
“I just tried throwing strikes,” Becher said. “(Catcher) Kenny Griffin did a great job calling the game.”
South coach Cliff Butcher said his pitching and defense have been fine this year, but the team hasn’t been as sound offensively. But he is confident things will change, and after winning state as the No. 8 seed last year, there’s no reason to doubt him.
“Until the last out of the last game is made, I don’t think anybody will be counting out South,” he said.
Oliver also would like to see the Twins hit more consistently. But he said he hopes the clutch victory against South puts the squad on the right path.
“I hope this is what we needed,” Oliver said after winning a second-straight league game. “I keep telling them they have to come together for the month of July. Here it is, July 1, and we beat a quality, quality team.”
In the second game, it was South jumping out to the early lead and hanging on.
The Wolverines got four runs — two earned — in the first inning off Bowe, who would go two innings. Sonnen then came on and allowed two runs in two innings, and Calvin Hills gave up a run in an inning. Justice Miller and Klayton Justice finished with scoreless innings.
But the Twins couldn’t make the comeback, getting just five hits in the game. South had 11 hits.
“We had chances to score runs, but they came out swinging in that second game,” Oliver said. “They hit the ball a lot more than they did in the first game.”
Prior was 1 for 1 with a run and a double, while Kyle Johnson was 2 for 2 and Cody Quelland had two RBIs.
The Twins’ next games start Tuesday with the Bill Miller Big Fish Wood Bat Tournament. The Twins host Alaska teams East and Service, as well as Castroville, Texas; Team Avenue Academy, California; and Napoleon, Ohio.
The schedule for Tuesday is Ohio vs. Service at 10 a.m. at Seymour Park; California vs. Texas at noon at the Kenai Little League fields; East vs. Ohio at 1 p.m. at Seymour Park; California vs. the Twins at 4 p.m. at Seymour Park; Service vs. East at 5 p.m. at the Kenai Little League fields; and Texas vs. Kenai at 7 p.m. at Seymour Park.