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Story Last modified at 12:33 p.m. on Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Legion teams head for the Valley
Chugiak, Eagle River to play in Wasilla tourney

Alaska Star


Chugiak's Brad Cooper tries to score on a passed ball during the Mustangs' 11-1 loss to Wasilla on June 30 at McManus Field in Wasilla. Chugiak and Eagle River's American Legion teams will return to McManus today for the first games of the four-day Todd Ryan Memorial Tournament. Cooper was out on the play.

An Independence Day weekend wouldn't be complete without a little baseball, and the Chugiak and Eagle River American Legion teams will play more than a little when they travel to the Mat-Su for the Todd Ryan Memorial Touranment, which begins today at McManus Field in Wasilla.

Also competing in the six-team field will be the host Road Warriors, Service Post 28 and teams from Napoleon, Ohio and Las Vegas, Nev.

Wolves assistant coach Rick Ayala said the tournament, which runs through Sunday, will be a good chance for his team to measure itself against a field of quality opponents.

"We think we can play with anybody, and that's what we're trying to get them to believe," Ayala said.

The Wolves split their final doubleheader before the tournament, falling in a wild 12-11 loss to the Kenai Post 20 Twins at Coral Seymour Memorial Park on June 26 in Kenai before rallying for a 13-12 win in the nightcap. The split moved Eagle River to 6-7 on the season. The Wolves also played Dimond on June 28, but the results of that game were unavailable as the Star went to press.

Brandon Metzel picked up the win for Eagle River against the Twins while Jacob Wenzel pitched the final three innings to hold on for the save.

Eagle River will open the Todd Ryan tourney with a 7 p.m. league game against Wasilla tonight (June 30) at McManus. The first two days of the tournament are pool play, with the Wolves facing Napoleon at 10 a.m. on Friday, July 1.

Ayala said Eagle River's goals will be to focus on one game at a time and try to win the tournament.

"We want to be at the top when it's all over," he said.

Chugiak is in the opposite pool as the Wolves. The Mustangs will open their tournament with a 4 p.m. match-up with Service today. Chugiak then gets Las Vegas in the 7 p.m. late game on July 1.

Saturday and Sunday's games will be determined by how well teams do in the first two days of the tournament.

The Mustangs will be looking to rebound from their last visit to McManus, an 11-1 thrashing administered by the Road Warriors on June 27. Wasilla scored five runs in the first inning and cruised from there.

"It was a game that got away from us from the get-go," said Mustangs manager Bill Lierman.

Lierman said he pulled most of his starters early in the game in order to give some of his inexperienced players some time.

"It gave us the opportunity to get some young guys in there," he said.

With a team full of young players, Lierman's job this season has been to teach and be patient as the squad comes along. Chugiak recently returned from a trip to Washington, where they went 1-3, but Lierman said every game has been an opportunity to move forward.

"Our guys can take something out of it," he said.

The Chugiak manager said one team the Mustangs faced in Washington suited up 18 players who either play or are headed to play college baseball. Seeing that kind of talent close up, he said, can motivate younger players in a way little else can.

"The players who want to move up and play at the next level, now they know what they have to do," he said.

Chugiak's first game back after their trip Outside was against Dimond on June 26, a 9-7 loss on June 25. Chugiak blew a lead in that game, something that's been an issue all season. Lierman said he believes his squad will eventually find ways to win close ballgames.

"That's the nature of a young team. I don't like it, they know I don't like it, but that's just part of learning how to compete," he said.

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, June 29, 2011.