THEY’RE IN: Chinooks knock off Pilots to reach ABL playoffs for first time in Chugiak

Sunday, August 19, 2018 - 16:07
  • Lee Jordan shows off his “WE’RE IN” t-shirt after the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks defeated the Anchorage Glacier Pilots 5-4 to clinch a spot in the Alaska Baseball League playoffs on Monday, July 30, 2018 at Lee Jordan Field in Chugiak. Jordan was a pressman at the Anchorage Times and helped set the print for the now iconic headline announcing Alaska Statehood in 1958, and went on to found the Chugiak-Eagle River Star with his wife Barbara in 1971. Jordan was instrumental in helping the Chinooks find a home in Chugiak-Eagle River in 2012 when the team moved from Fairbanks. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks pitcher Honus Kindreich delivers to the plate during the ninth inning of the Chinooks’ 5-4 Alaska Baseball League win over the Anchorage Glacier Pilots on Monday, July 30, 2018 at Lee Jordan Field in Chugiak. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks players sign autographs for fans following the team’s 5-4 Alaska Baseball League win over the Anchorage Glacier Pilots on Monday, July 30, 2018 at Lee Jordan Field in Chugiak. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Chugiak-Eagle River head coach Jon Groth motions to the fans after the Chinooks defeated the Anchorage Glacier Pilots 5-4 on Monday, July 30, 2018 at Lee Jordan Field in Chugiak. The win qualified the Chinooks to the Alaska Baseball League playoffs for the first time. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks general manager Chris Beck and assistant coach Dalton Smith look to the crowd after the team’s 5-4 win over the Anchorage Glacier Pilots on Monday, July 30, 2018 at Lee Jordan Field in Chugiak. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks players sign autographs for fans following the team’s 5-4 win over the Anchorage Glacier Pilots on Monday, July 30, 2018 at Lee Jordan Field in Chugiak. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks players douse assistant coach Dalton Smith with a bucket of water after the team’s 5-4 Alaska Baseball League win over the Anchrage Glacier Pilots on Monday, July 30, 2018 at Lee Jordan Field in Chugiak. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

When Lee Jordan arrived at the ballfield that bears his name Monday night, he had an inkling the game would make headlines.

“I just felt good about it,” he said.

If anyone knows about making headlines, it’s Jordan.

On June 30, 1958, the legendary newsman set the type for the now iconic six-inch-tall banner headline on that day’s Anchorage Daily Times announcing Alaska statehood. On Monday, Jordan wore a t-shirt bearing the famous headline for the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks’ winner-take-all Alaska Baseball League game against the Anchorage Glacier Pilots at Lee Jordan Field in Chugiak.

“WE’RE IN” reads the headline.

In they are.

The Chinooks qualified for the ABL playoffs for the first time since moving to Chugiak with a 5-4 win over the Pilots, finishing one game above the aviators in the standings and sending the standing-room-only crowd into a fish frenzy. Reliever Honus Kindreich pitched the final three innings to record the save, inducing a ground-out by Elliott Curtis on the final play.

Kindreich said he wasn’t aware of the historical significance of the game until he took the mound in the ninth inning.

“It was pretty exciting. I didn’t actually know until I went out there in the last inning and everyone was cheering and I was like, ‘Wow,’” he said. “It kind of hit me right there, that this is something that’s really cool to be a part of.”

Centerfielder Anthony Forte went 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs to lead the Chugiak-Eagle River offense, which also got two hits each from J Paul Fullerton and Seth Ballenger. Chinooks starter Bryan Pope earned the win, allowing six hits and four runs in five innings of work before giving way to the bullpen with his team clinging to a 5-4 lead provided when Fullerton grounded into a run-scoring double play with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth.

The Chinooks (18-26) will face the ABL regular season champion Mat-Su Miners (27-17) for a three-game first-round playoff series starting Wednesday, with all three games at Hermon Brothers Field in Palmer. Also making the five-team league’s four-team playoff were the Anchorage Bucs and Peninsula Oilers, who will play a three-game series Aug. 1-3 at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage.

A 6-foot-4, 230 pound right-hander from Medford, Oregon who attends Bioloa University, Kindreich said the team wanted to win Monday night’s game for the diehards in the stands at Chugiak’s intimate hometown ballpark, which is ringed by hills and mountains in the family friendly atmosphere at the Loretta French Sports Complex.

“You look in the stands and see all these great fans out there, these people come out everyday to support us,” said Kindreich, who stayed on the field with his teammates long after the game to sign autographs.

The Chinooks are unique in the Alaska Baseball League in that they’re run by the nonprofit Athletes in Action, a Christian sports organization based in Ohio. The team won an ABL title while playing as the AIA Fire in 2007 in Fairbanks, but struggled to find a foothold in the Golden Heart City. They spent the 2011 season essentially without a home field, and the organization considered leaving Alaska until it found a home at municipal-owned Loretta French. The effort to bring the team to Chugiak-Eagle River received big support from Jordan, who has served as the team’s booster club president since its inception. The team played its first “home” game at Loretta French as the AIA Fire during the 2011 Bear Paw Festival, then made the move permanent the following season.

On Monday, Jordan said this year’s version of the Chinooks has been the best ever “by far” in the team’s seven seasons in Chugiak-Eagle River.

“They’re good guys,” said Jordan, who founded the Chugiak-Eagle River Star with his wife Barbara in 1971. “They never give up, they try hard and they’ve been more aggressive this year than ever before.”

Chinooks general manager Chris Beck has been with the Chinooks for their entire Chugiak-Eagle River run. The Chinooks needed wins in both of their final two games against the Pilots, and Beck said he was proud of the way the team rallied to secure a playoff spot by winning Sunday and Monday.

“It’s been fun the whole season,” Beck said. “They’ve battled, they didn’t give up and they kept playing hard.”

Kindreich said it was easy to play hard with so many home fans cheering the team on, and after a summer living and playing in Chugiak-Eagle River, he said he’s come to feel a special bond with the locals.

“You see them around town in Eagle River and Chugiak, you see them at church and you can’t help but having a feeling that you really want to do it for these people,” he said.

In order to return to keep their season alive, the Chinooks will have to win a road series against the two-time defending ABL champion Miners — a formidable challenge, for sure, but not one that’s out of the question for the Chinooks, who went 5-7 this season against their Old Glenn rivals.

“They’re definitely a good team,” Kindreich said. “But you know what? We’re going to go in there and do our best.”

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected]

Upcoming games:

Wednesday, August 1

Chinooks at Mat-Su Miners, 6 p.m., Hermon Brothers Field (ABL playoffs)

Thursday, Aug. 2

Chinooks at Mat-Su Miners, 6 p.m., Hermon Brothers Field (ABL playoffs)

Friday, Aug. 3

Chinooks at Mat-Su Miners, 6 p.m., Hermon Brothers Field (ABL playoffs)

Saturday, Aug. 4

ABL Playoffs (TBA)

Sunday, Aug. 5

ABL Playoffs (TBA)

Monday, Aug. 6

ABL Playoffs (TBA)

Visit alaskabaseballleague.org for more information

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