Chugiak's Brad Cooper slides safely into home past Eagle River catcher Zach Weller during Eagle River's 17-8 win over the Mustangs earlier this month. The Mustangs (8-12) will be the No. 8 seed in the state tournament, which begins tomorrow at Mulcahy Stadium.
STAR PHOTO by matt tunseth
It all comes down to this.
A baseball season that began in dimly-lit gymnasiums in late winter has finally reached its grand finale, the Alaska State American Legion tournament, which begins tomorrow with first-round games between the four lowest-seeded teams in the field.
One of those teams is Chugiak, which finished the regular season 8-12 and eighth in the 11-team league. The Mustangs will face No. 9 Bartlett tomorrow at Noon at Mulcahy Stadium, which is the site of all tourney games. The contest is one of two first-round games on the day.
A Chugiak win would put the Mustangs into the second round the place where Eagle River gets to start thanks to its 10-10 league finish. The sixth-seeded Wolves will face No. 3 Service at 3:15 p.m. tomorrow.
Eagle River coach Gregg Frost said that his team is brimming with confidence heading into the tourney.
"The kids believe they can beat anybody," Frost said.
Both local teams enter the tournament having played some of their best ball of the season coming in, with both picking up wins in their season finales.
In its final regular season, Chugiak hammered Wasilla 10-3 on July 17 at McManus Field in Wasilla. The Mustangs pounded out 16 hits in the game.
Heavy hitting has been a hallmark of Chugiak's play over the final week of the season. The Mustangs followed a 17-8 loss to Eagle River by winning two of their final three games. The squad had 16 hits in the Wasilla game, which came two days after a split with No. 2 seed Fairbanks.
Against Fairbanks, Chugiak got eight strikeouts from Justin Schneider in the opening game, a 9-4 win. Cameon Fritz provided much of the offense, going 3-for-4 with a home run.
Schneider was a terror during both Fairbanks games. He finished with four hits and four RBIs in the two-game series.
Fairbanks won the second game 11-4.
Eagle River has been even hotter. The Wolves won three of their last four games and finished with a flourish, a 5-3 win over Bartlett in Anchorage.
Against Bartlett, the Wolves scored three runs in the fifth to take a 4-1 lead. Bartlett battled back to make it 4-3, but Travis Ahlgren's heads-up baserunning on Kyle Youngs' ground ball to third base made it 5-3 heading into the last inning. Ahlgren, who started on second, was running on the play. Bartlett's third baseman fielded the ball cleanly, but never checked Ahlgren as the speedy Wolves' 19-year-old rounded third and headed home. By the time the throw from first went home, Ahlgren was already in the clear.
"That was huge," Frost said.
Brandon Metzel pitched the first three innings of the game to pick up the win and got support from relievers Jacob Wenzel and Wesley Bennice.
Zach Weller went 1-for-4 with two RBIs and also gunned down a Bartlett runner trying to steal with two outs in the seventh inning to end the game.
Frost said the game was exactly how he'd like to see his squad perform in the upcoming tournament.
"We'll have to do stuff like we did tonight, play small ball, generate runs, get the pitching, avoid the walks," he said. "If we do that, we should be in good shape."
The tournament format is double elimination, and a complete bracket can be found at the Alaska American Legion Web site (www.alaskalegion.com).
Frost said Monday that he was still giving his pitching rotation some thought, and figured he'd wait until the games got closer to decide on a starter in the opener.
"We've got a couple tender arms right now," he said.
No matter how the tournament turns out, Frost and he's thrilled with his team's play this season. The Wolves won just one game last season, so it's almost like they're playing with house money, Frost said.
"We'll do what we do and see where the chips fall."
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or email@example.com
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, July 20, 2011.