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Story Last modified at 6:41 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Consistency eludes Chugiak nine
Three wins, three losses for up-and-down Mustangs

BY MATT TUNSETH
Alaska Star

photo:Sports

Chugiak's Cameron Fritz takes a swing at a pitch delivered by Eagle River's David Fuller during Chugiak's 8-1 win on June 10 at Oberg Field in Peters Creek. Fritz got the win as a starting pitcher and also had an RBI at the plate.
STAR PHOTOS BY MATT TUNSETH

The bleachers at Oberg Field might need to be equipped with seat belts if the Chugiak Post 33 American Legion Mustangs continue their roller coaster of a season.

When the Mustangs have been good, they've been great. A 9-5 win over South on June 7 proved that. But after the season's first ten games, Chugiak was sitting with a ho-hum 5-5 record thanks to several uneven performances.

"We're a very young team, and one of the things we've talked about is being more consistent," said manager Bill Lierman after his team ran circles around Eagle River in an 8-1 victory on June 10 at Oberg Field in Peters Creek.

In those two wins, Chugiak's pitching and defense were stellar, its hitting was timely and everyone seemed to always be in the right place at the right time.

"We've got nights like tonight where we're on our game and then other games where we're not in it mentally," said pitcher Cameron Fritz, who gave up just four hits and one run in five strong innings to pick up the win against Eagle River.

Chugiak – and the Eagle River defense – made things difficult for Wolves starter David Fuller from the start. The Mustangs put two runs across in the first on an RBI single by Fritz and a costly Eagle River error.

The Mustangs picked up another run in the second by playing small ball, using a single by Morgan Spohn, another Eagle River error and back-to-back sacrifices from Deven Ferriss and Justin Schneider to take a 3-0 lead.

Eagle River cut it to 3-1 in the top of the fourth on an RBI sacrifice fly by Colby LeBlanc, and that's how it stayed through four as Fuller settled into a groove by retiring nine straight Mustangs.

Chugiak broke Fuller's spell in the fifth, getting a pair of unearned runs on no hits as Fuller walked a batter, hit another and threw a wild pitch. The Mustangs put things away with a three-run sixth that was highlighted by Schneider's two-run single.

Garreth Sexton gave up just one hit in two innings of relief to close things out for Chugiak.

photo:Sports

Chugiak's Morgan Spohn dives back to first base while Eagle River's Greg Long waits for the throw.
STAR PHOTOS BY MATT TUNSETH

Neither Fritz nor Sexton was challenged often, and when they were, Chugiak's defense came up with big plays. Catcher Chase Wilson caught Ricky Ayala leaning too far off first base in the second inning, Sexton (playing right field) completed a double play by gunning down Zach Weller at the plate in the fourth and shortstop Brad Cooper and second baseman Conner Cimmiyotti turned a nifty double in the seventh.

"It shows what we can do when we're focused," Fritz said.

Lierman said his two veteran pitchers – both recent Chugiak High grads – deserved much of the credit for the win. Before the game, the former Chugiak ace said he didn't know who was going to pitch until Fritz and Sexton said they were good to go.

"We talked about it before the game that we've gotta have guys step up," Lierman said. "Those two guys stepped up and pitched."

Chugiak's defense also shined in the team's victory over South, a game in which the squad turned three double plays and got solid pitching from Schneider, Wilson and Chase Gall.

It hasn't all been pretty for the Mustangs. Chugiak dropped a 15-0 contest to Service on June 6 and also took an 11-7 loss at the hands of West on June 8.

Chugiak's final two games of the week were just as tumultuous. In their opener against Kenai Post 20 in Kenai on June 12, Chugiak ripped 10 hits in a 10-3 win over the Twins despite missing batting practice due to their late arrival at Coral Seymour Memorial Park.

"We didn't get any pregame hitting, but the guys responded well to that," said coach Doug Henie told the Peninsula Clarion after the game.

Chugiak didn't make an error in the game and got at least one run from eight different players. Fritz went 2-for-3 with a pair of runs and RBIs, and Ferriss and Gall had two hits each. Schneider struck out seven batters in three innings of work, while struck out six in his four innings of relief.

But in the nightcap, the Twins prevailed for their first win of the season, scoring six runs on seven hits to take a 6-3 victory and get their first win of the season.

Chugiak moved to 5-5 on the season with the split.

Following the Eagle River game, Fritz said that the recent wins show the team has the capability to play with anyone in the state.

"It shows what we can do when we're focused," he said. "Now we know the standard we need to get to and exceed it."

The Mustangs will have plenty of time to work on their consistency. The team doesn't have another game on the schedule until June 25.

Peninsula Clarion sports editor Jeff Helminiak contributed to this report.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, June 15, 2011.