The Wasilla Road Warriors could not survive the one-two punch of the American Legion Twins on Friday in a battle of league unbeatens at the Kenai Little League fields.
Behind huge game from leadoff hitter Josh Darrow and No. 2 hitter Paul Steffensen, the Twins defeated Wasilla 11-4 in a nine-inning game. The Twins are now 10-0 in league play and 12-1 overall, while the Warriors fall to 5-1 in the league and 9-1 overall.
In the high school season, Wasilla handed Soldotna its lone loss of the regular season. Then, in the Southcentral Conference championship, Wasilla starter Nolan Monaghan beat the Stars for the second straight year.
Of the 16 players on the Wasilla Legion roster, 13 played for Wasilla High School this season. The Twins look a lot more different from Soldotna, as only four of the nine starters Friday played for the Stars this season.
Nonetheless, even though rain delayed the game by over three hours and moved its location from Coral Seymour Memorial Park to the Little League fields, emotions were high.
“That makes it fun,” said Wasilla head coach Ken Ottinger, also the head coach for Wasilla High School. “It’s a heated rivalry.
“There was jawing back and forth, but there was nothing over the line.”
Darrow and Steffensen did not play for Soldotna. Darrow is born and raised in Soldotna, but moved to Utah as a sophomore, where he was a first-team all-state prep player this past season. Steffensen plays for Kenai Central.
Darrow finished 4 for 5 with four runs, two RBIs, a home run and a steal of home. Steffensen was 4 for 5 with three runs, two RBIs and three stolen bases.
“The top of their lineup — their 1-2 — was on it today,” Ottinger said.
With Monaghan on the hill, Twins coach Rob Quelland, also the head coach at SoHi, said the plan was patience.
“We’ve faced him a lot in the last couple of years,” Quelland said. “We know he’s a quality pitcher, but we also knew if we were patient we could get good pitches to hit and get into their bullpen.”
Wasilla had the edge early, taking a 4-3 lead after four innings as Jeffrey Forster and Koby Burns each touched up Twins starter Justice Miller for two-run home runs.
The first three runs scored by the Twins were unearned. Those errors, combined with quality at-bats by the Twins, forced Monaghan to reach the limit of his pitch count by the fifth inning.
“Some of the guys were a little sluggish today,” Ottinger said of the errors, noting some had woken at 4 a.m. to drive to the peninsula, while the team also had to sit through the rain delay.
The momentum shifted in the fifth with two outs, Darrow on third and Steffensen on second. Calvin Hills worked the count to full on Monaghan.
On the pay-off pitch, Darrow broke for home. The pitch was in the dirt for ball four, and Darrow slid in safely for a 4-all game. Darrow said Monaghan hadn’t looked his way once and he had a good read on Monaghan’s delivery, so he just went for it.
“I just dove in there hoping he wouldn’t take my head off,” Darrow said.
Then, with Hills on first and Steffensen on third, Quelland called for a double steal even though the combo of Monaghan and catcher Forster is nearly impossible to run on. When Forster’s attempt to cut down Hills at second was short and skipped into center field, Steffensen gave the Twins the lead for good and Monaghan would soon be out of the game, taking the loss.
“We just wanted to keep pressure on their battery,” Quelland said.
Twins relievers Gavin Petterson and Joey Becher were stingy with the lead. Petterson gave up one hit and no runs through three innings for the win.
In the top of the seventh, Wasilla was down 8-4 but loaded the bases with one out on Petterson. Becher came in to strike out Matt Palmer, the 2015 Southcentral Conference Player of the Year, and Forster, the Southcentral Conference co-MVP this season.
Becher went 2 2-3 hitless and scoreless innings for the save, striking out six.
“Every time Joey is on the mound, I’m confident,” Darrow said. “He’s matured a lot in the last year.”
Kenny Griffin had a double and two RBIs for the Twins, while Calvin Hills was 1 for 3 with a run and an RBI, and Mason Prior was 1 for 3 with a run.
For Wasilla, Palmer was 2 for 5 with two runs and a double, while Hank Boyer drew three walks. The Twins got to Boyer for six runs in 1 2-3 innings of relief, while Burns had 1 2-3 innings of scoreless relief.
The day also was supposed to have a nonconference game between the teams, but that was canceled due to the rain.
The Twins host Kodiak today at Coral Seymour Memorial Park at 3 and 6 p.m.