With a state tournament berth on the line, the Legion AA Twins needed a big day Saturday against Bartlett.
They got one en route to sweeping the Bears in a league doubleheader at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai and clinching a state playoff spot. The Twins won the first game 11-1 and the second 11-0, with both contests being shortened to five innings due to the 10-run rule. It’s the fourth-straight league win for the Twins.
Hector Rivera celebrated his 19th birthday by falling a home run short of completing the cycle in the first game, going 3 for 3 with three runs and an RBI. Rivera also made his season debut on the mound in the second game, tossing the final inning of play with no hits and two strikeouts.
Not a bad birthday present.
“Honestly, every year there’s a game on my birthday,” Rivera said. “Last night, I felt like I was a little bad on my hitting, so I went to the little league fields and did some hitting, and really validated myself with what I needed to do, and looks like it worked.”
Rivera is also committed to play baseball next spring at Central Christian College of Kansas, so in case he would not get another chance, Rivera prodded his father, Hector Sr., to let him get some time on the mound as well.
“That’s the first time in a while,” he said. “I’ve been working on it a little behind the scenes. It felt different.”
“He’s been begging for it last week,” the senior Rivera added. “He’s been saying, I want a chance on my birthday.”
The first win Saturday guaranteed that Bartlett (8-10) could not catch the Twins (11-5 league) this year in the Legion AA National Division standings. Bartlett ended its season with 42 points and cannot finish higher than sixth in the standings, while Kenai is currently third with 49 points with a Sunday doubleheader against Eagle River still to go.
Both Chugiak (13-5) and Eagle River (12-4) had clinched the top two spots in the division with 57 and 52 points, respectively, and the state berth that comes with it. The top three teams in the National and American divisions and two wild-card teams get a postseason berth, and with Saturday’s pair of victories, Kenai will be in with at least a wild-card spot. Kodiak (10-7) sits fourth with 47 points and Fairbanks Post 30 (9-9) is fifth with 45. A win is worth four points, while a loss is worth one.
“If my middle guys step up and follow the leaders on the team, we’ll be just fine,” coach Rivera said.
In Saturday’s pair of games, Bartlett struggled mightily with mistakes. The Golden Bears committed five errors in the first loss and nine in the second.
In the first game, the Twins scored four runs in the first inning with an RBI single from Dallas Pierren, a stolen home base from JJ Sonnen and a two-RBI single from Josh Darrow with two outs on the board. Pierren ended the day 1 for 3 with two RBI, and Sonnen finished 2 for 3 with a run scored.
Bartlett responded with its lone run of the game in the top of the second with an RBI single from Alec Dudley. Post 20 responded in the bottom of the inning with a two-out single from Pierren that scored Rivera.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Twins scored five runs on seven hits. Rivera had an RBI double, which he followed up with a run scored on an error. Pierren reached third base on an error that brought Sonnen across home plate, Tommy Bowe reached second base on an error that brought Pierren home, and Kenny Griffin hit a single to center field that scored Bowe. It all went down with zero outs on the board.
When it was Bartlett’s turn on offense, Klayton Justice took care of things on the hill. Justice pitched the full game with one run given up on two hits, four walks and four strikeouts.
Coach Rivera said that Saturday morning, he got in the bullpen with the players and pitched to them to iron things out.
“I said no no no, we’re doing it this way,” he said. “I made sure they weren’t wasting their time.”
Rivera said he encouraged his squad to be more aggressive running the bases, which ultimately forced Bartlett into mistakes, most coming on missed throws from the catcher, Dudley, to the basemen.
“We made them make some errors,” he said. “We pressured them all the time.”
The second game didn’t look much better. The Twins finished with five hits, but the mistakes did the damage for Bartlett.
Pierren took the win on the mound in four innings of work, giving up only two hits and one walk while striking out five, all while throwing 42 pitches. Rivera cleaned up with only 10 throws.
On offense, Pierren hit 1 for 3 with two RBI and a run. Sonnen hit 2 for 3 and two runs. Calvin Hills, Rivera and Griffin each had a hit as well, and Bowe twice reached second base on errors.
“When they choose to step up, good things happen,” Rivera said. “When they choose to step down, we become an A ball team, instead of an AA ball team.”
The Twins batted around their lineup in the first inning, getting 10 batters to the plate, and did the same in the fourth. Once again, the fourth frame hurt Bartlett the most, as the Twins scored five runs on the strength of four walks, a hit by pitch, and two bases reached on errors. The final three runs were scored with two outs in the inning, while two pitching substitutions were made.
Pierren started the inning with an RBI single, Bowe reached second base on an error that scored Pierren, Bowe scored on an overthrow error from the catcher to third base, Griffin stole home on an error, and Darrow and Hills both scored on errors.
“It’s all up here,” coach Rivera said, pointing to his head. “Once you show them that you can dominate them with the bat and score a lot of runs, then they have no chance against Dallas.”