Local Legion teams shine at state
Talk about improbable.
Both local American Legion teams notched consecutive upsets to remain the final two unbeaten teams after three games in the AA State Tournament at Mulcahy Stadium.
The crosstown rivals faced off Wednesday, Aug. 1 in the semifinal — with the winner earning an automatic berth in the title game Friday, Aug. 3 at 2 p.m.
A score was not available when the Star went to press. Check www.alaskastar.com for updates.
No matter the outcome, neither Chugiak Post 33 nor Eagle River can finish worse than third at state.
The upstart Wolves — who lost 11 of 13 games to end the regular season — have never advanced to the semifinal round of the state tournament.
The feat came of no surprise to head coach Gregg Frost.
“They’ve known all year they can play this way,” Frost said after eighth-seeded Eagle River edged No. 5 Fairbanks 9-8 on Sunday, July 29.
The Wolves gained a 9-4 advantage in the top of the sixth, but the 49ers scored three runs in the bottom of the inning to cut the lead to two. Fairbanks added a run in the eighth.
Fairbanks had the tying run in scoring position and a man on first with one out in the bottom of the ninth. But reliever Chris Parker got Tanner Shoemaker — who finished with two hits and four RBIs — to line out into a double play and seal the win.
Parker said he approached the final at bat one pitch at a time.
“I was just trying to throw a strike,” he said. “I knew my teammates had my back.”
Wolves shortstop Wesley Bennice, who recorded the game-ending unassisted double play, said when he saw the 49ers’ runner leave second base, he knew Eagle River had made history.
“I saw the guy break for third, and I knew it was over,” he said.
Bennice got the win, pitching 5 1/3 innings, giving up six hits. Parker went 3 2/3 innings, surrendering just two hits and striking out five to earn the save.
David Fuller led Eagle River on offense, going 3-for-5 with four RBIs and scored two runs. Parker went 2-for-5 with an RBI and scored a run.
Ricky Ayala and Collin Metzel each had two hits. Ayala scored once and drove in a run, while Metzel scored twice and had two RBIs.
Having a couple days to rest prior to state paid dividends for a banged-up Wolves squad, Frost said.
“Everybody got healthy,” he said. “That was the big thing.”
Eagle River received a huge boost when Fuller returned to the lineup, Frost said. Fuller, who’s been the Wolves ace all season, missed the last few weeks of the regular due to a broken thumb.
Fuller showed no rust in his return the mound.
He pitched a complete game shutout, giving up just five hits and striking out six, to lead Eagle River past top-seeded Kenai 6-0 on Saturday, July 28. It was the Wolves’ first win over the Twins in six attempts this season.
“That’s the best high school pitching performance I’ve seen,” Frost said. “He was spot on.”
Fuller’s injury was to his glove hand, Frost said, so he was able to stay sharp throwing in the bullpen.
Fuller said he had no signs of fatigue throughout the nine-inning affair.
“My arm felt great,” he said.
And his accuracy was dead on, Fuller said.
“My location was on,” he said. “I made it tough for them to decide whether to swing or not.”
Fuller was likely to get the start against Chugiak. The last time he pitched against the Mustangs, Fuller went a complete game seven innings, striking out six, to lead Eagle River to a 6-5 win July 2.
Eagle River opened the tournament with a 7-2 win over ninth-seeded East. Kyle Frost pitched six shutout innings and gave up just two hits to earn the win.
Colby LeBlanc, Zach Weller and Greg Long had two hits apiece for Eagle River.
Parker credited the Wolves’ string of victories to superb focus.
“We just got dialed in,” he said.
Eagle River is peaking at the right time of the year, Bennice said.
“We’ve just gotten hot,” he said. “We picked a really good time to start playing baseball.”
Contact Mike Nesper at [email protected]