Kenai's JJ Sonnen bunts the ball foul during a 5-4 win over the Wasilla Road Warriors Thursday, July 21, 2016, at McManus Field in Wasilla.

Kenai's JJ Sonnen bunts the ball foul during a 5-4 win over the Wasilla Road Warriors Thursday, July 21, 2016, at McManus Field in Wasilla.

Twins topple Wasilla on road

  • By Jeremiah Bartz
  • Thursday, July 21, 2016 11:58pm
  • Sports

WASILLA — As one of about three teams still in the hunt for the regular season American Legion crown and the top seed in the upcoming state tournament, the Twins could not have asked for a bigger end to the year.

Kenai is capping the regular season with three games against state tournament-bound teams in as many days. Its first test came Thursday in Wasilla, against another squad with potential to end the season on top. But the Twins used a big sixth inning to squash Wasilla’s hope of the top seed in the state tourney, and keep the chance alive for Kenai.

Kenai rallied to score three runs in the top of the sixth, and posted a 5-4 victory over the Road Warriors at McManus Field in Wasilla.

Kenai improved to 15-1 in conference play and 27-6 overall, and jumped ahead of Wasilla and Chugiak, who are now tied with 14-4 marks. Juneau is also in play for the top seed. The Bears played a doubleheader against Kodiak Thursday.

Kenai, which plays at South Anchorage on Friday and Dimond on Saturday, is focusing on what the Twins need to do, rather than the Alaska American Legion standings, Kenai head coach Robb Quelland said after the win.

“We have no reason to watch anyone else,” Quelland said.

Quelland said the Twins are certainly fighting for the highest seed possible, but are not getting wrapped up in watching the scoreboard. The win over Wasilla was important, but not necessarily the most important, he said.

“It’s a conference win, no bigger than any of the other ones,” Quelland said. “We love playing Wasilla. It’s a good rivalry. It’s nice to play a quality team.”

Kenai used small ball to find a way to have success against Wasilla starting pitcher Koby Burns, and get by the Road Warriors.

“Base hits weren’t working, so we went to small ball,” Quelland said. “We’ve got the speed.”

The first five Kenai hitters in the sixth reached. Kenny Griffin, Gavin Petterson and Cody Quelland each reached with bunt singles. Paul Steffensen led off the inning with a single to center field and later scored on a single to right field by Calvin Hills. Griffin scored on a wild pitch, and Hills scored the game-winning run after Quelland’s bunt.

“We’re kind of designed that way. We can go with either aspect of the game,” Quelland said of his team’s approach at the plate.

Kenai’s three-run sixth came after Burns retired 12 straight Twins.

“It’s the second time we’ve faced (Burns) this year, and he’s handled us both times,” Quelland said of Burns. “His curve is something we haven’t seen in a while. He’s good. He was dominant when we faced him a couple of weeks ago.”

Burns pitched seven innings in the loss. Five of the nine hits he allowed came in the sixth inning.

Kenai took a quick 2-0 lead in the top of the first. Josh Darrow led off the game with a single and later scored. Steffensen reached on a Wasilla error and scored to give the Twins the two-run advantage.

Wasilla tied the game in the bottom of the second. Jimmy Arend walked early in the inning and Kyle Graham was hit by a pitch. Ben Werner punched a ball into center field to drive in both base runners.

Wasilla used a pair of runs in the third to take the 4-2 lead. Matt Palmer drew a lead-off walk, and later stole home to give Wasilla the 3-2 lead. Pinch runner Gavin Hannasch scored later in the inning to give the Warriors the 3-2 lead.

Darrow and Hills led Kenai with two hits each in the win. Petterson earned the win on the mound in relief, working the final 4 2/3.

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman sports editor Jeremiah Bartz at sports@frontiersman.com.

Kenai starter Joey Beacher releases a pitch during a 5-4 win over Wasilla Thursday, July 21, 2016, at McManus Field in Wasilla.

Kenai starter Joey Beacher releases a pitch during a 5-4 win over Wasilla Thursday, July 21, 2016, at McManus Field in Wasilla.

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