'One game at a time'
Both Chugiak Post 33 and Eagle River had solid wins in the opening round of the American Legion AA State Tournament.
Both followed with back-to-back upsets of higher seeds.
And both stood in each other’s way for an automatic berth in the title game Friday, Aug. 3 at Mulcahy Stadium.
The crosstown rivals — and only undefeated teams in the tournament after three games — played Wednesday, Aug. 1 in the semifinals, but a score was not available when the Star went to press. Check www.alaskastar.com for updates.
Though the semis featured the sixth-seeded Mustangs against the eighth-seeded Wolves, Chugiak manager Bill Lierman wasn’t surprised at the matchup.
“I think a lot of teams in this tournament have looked past Chugiak and Eagle River, and it hurt them,” Lierman said.
But that’s one mistake Chugiak didn’t plan to make, he said.
“One game at a time is the mentality you have to have,” Lierman said.
The Mustangs need to focus on each play and not fret about the final outcome, pitcher Justin Schneider said.
“We can’t play scared to lose,” he said. “We have to play to win.”
Though the stakes would be higher, Lierman said, Wednesday’s game wouldn’t be any different than when the two teams — whose home fields are separated by less than three miles — met in the regular season.
Chugiak and Eagle River split in their two meetings this season. The Wolves edged out a 6-5 win July 2 and the Mustangs won 14-4 two weeks later.
Eagle River’s David Fuller pitched a complete game seven innings and struck out six in the first meeting. Lierman said he expected to see Fuller on the mound Wednesday.
Thanks to staying in the winner’s bracket, Chugiak’s and Eagle River’s pitching staffs were both available for the semifinal game, said Mustangs’ pitcher/infielder Conner Cimmiyotti.
“We’ll be rested up,” he said. “It will be an evenly matched game.”
To get to the semis, Chugiak knocked off No. 2 South on Sunday, July 29. Holding a 5-2 lead, Chugiak blew the game open with five runs in the sixth inning.
Four Mustangs had multiple hits and the team totaled 13 for the game. Schneider went 3-for-5 with an RBI and scored two runs. Cameron Fritz, Deven Ferris and Alex Bozzo each had two hits.
“Our bats were very, very good,” Lierman said.
Chugiak also made good use of each at bat, he said, and didn’t throw any away.
“That was ultimately the difference,” Lierman said.
The Mustangs also were solid on defense, Cimmiyotti said.
“Our defense played great,” he said. “It couldn’t have been any better.”
Prior to defeating South, Chugiak used a six-run fourth inning to get past third-seeded Wasilla 7-5 on Saturday.
Fritz led Chugiak with three hits, an RBI and a run scored. Fritz also pitched two scoreless innings in relief, surrendering just two hits and striking out three to earn the save.
Chase Wilson got the win, giving up seven hits and five runs through six innings of work. Cimmiyotti pitched one scoreless inning in relief, giving up just one hit.
“Our pitching was fantastic that game,” Cimmiyotti said.
Wasilla’s four errors also didn’t hurt, Schneider said.
Chugiak run ruled West in the opening round Friday to win 12-2 in seven innings.
Fritz went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and scored twice, Wilson was 2-for-3 with three runs and Cimmiyotti went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and scored twice.
Schneider drove in three runs and Ferriss drove in two.
Chase Gall pitched a complete game four-hitter for the win.
The Mustangs know they’re better than what their regular season record shows, Lierman said.
Their performance at state reflects that, as Chugiak can’t finish worse than third.
“Our compete level is very, very high right now,” Lierman said. “All season we’ve worried about the process and allowed the results to speak for themselves.”
Lierman said he’s preached focusing on improving each practice and each game, and the team has bought into that philosophy.
Chugiak’s success has also stemmed from playing their game and scoring runs early, said infielder/pitcher Brad Cooper.
“We’ve kind of been playing at our tempo,” he said. “We just knew we could go far as long as we play Chugiak baseball.”
Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or email@example.com