Eagle River's Colby Leblanc tosses his bat in disgust after striking out during the Wolves' 19-14 loss to West in the Alaska American Legion State Tournament on Saturday, July 23 at Mulcahy Stadium. The loss eliminated the Wolves from the tourney.
STAR PHOTO by matt tunseth
First, the good news: Eagle River averaged more than 12 runs per game in this year's state American Legion baseball tournament.
You've likely guessed the bad.
The Wolves put up 25 runs in back-to-back losses at state, a disappointing end to a season that saw the team take a dramatic step up in class.
"I expected better from this team in the tournament, but I have no regrets," said coach Gregg Frost. "The program has jumped twofold in the past season."
Eagle River went .500 in league play and defeated longtime measuring stick Chugiak for the first time in the program's six seasons. But the Wolves fell to 1-9 all-time in the tourney after coming out on the wrong end of a pair of wild games that had the scoreboard operator at Mulcahy Stadium working overtime.
"I'm ready for a day off," Frost said after watching his team fall 19-14 to West in a loser-out game on Saturday, July 23.
The tourney-ender came one day after the Wolves rallied from an 8-0 deficit to take the lead against Service, only to falter down the stretch in a 14-11 opening-round loss on Friday, July 22.
"They never feel like they're out of a game," Frost said.
Against Service, the Cougars put up seven runs on Eagle River starter Wesley Bennice, who gave up two runs in the first, then failed to retire any of the five batters he faced in the second before giving way to Brandon Metzel.
Down 8-1 after picking up a run in the top of the third, Eagle River stormed back with nine runs in the top of the next inning. Travis Ahlgren led the onslaught with a two hits in the inning, a triple and single that combined to drive in five runs. Shortstop David Fuller also had two hits and drove in two runs in the inning for Eagle River, which sent 14 men to the plate and led 10-8 after the dust had settled.
It stayed that way until the bottom of the sixth, when Service tagged Metzel for four runs on five hits to take the lead for good.
"When you get a good team down, you've got to go full throttle," Frost said of his team, which also committed six errors in the tournament.
Jake Wenzl added an RBI double for the Wolves, which also got singles from Kyle Frost, Kyle Youngs, Wesley Bennice and Metzel.
The loss dropped Eagle River into a Saturday morning loser-out game with West that looked to be out of reach before most fans could rub the sleep from their eyes.
The Eagles hung a 10-spot on the board in the top of the first, chasing Wenzl after the Eagle River starter gave up seven runs (three earned) while retiring only a single hitter. Wenzl allowed just three hits, but he was his own worst enemy with a pair of throwing errors, two hit batters and a walk. Fuller then allowed three more runs in relief before the Wolves finally limped off the field.
But Eagle River has trailed before, and the Wolves weren't going to leave Anchorage without howling a bit. The team got one run in the bottom of the first, then ran off five more in the second to cut the lead to 10-6 with plenty of baseball left to go.
Coach Frost said the team's ability to never quit was one of its hallmarks all season.
"It was fun seeing these kids develop and start believing in themselves," he said.
West got some breathing room with four runs in the fifth, but two Eagle River runs in the bottom of the inning then three more in the sixth had the Eagles clinging to a 14-12 advantage.
West pulled away with two runs in the seventh and three in the eighth to end any rally dreams.
"We just couldn't get close enough," Metzel said.
Eagle River catcher Zach Weller was the offensive star of the game, going 3-for-4 with a pair of runs scored and three RBIs. Kyle Frost also had three RBIs, and Metzel scored four runs and stole three bases. Youngs added two hits for Eagle River, which also got hits from Ahlgren, Metzel and Fuller.
Metzel said the winless tourney showing doesn't diminish the team's accomplishments this year.
"It was our best season ever," he said.
Metzel, Ahlgren and Youngs are the only three players who are now out of American Legion eligibility, and Weller is the only other player to have graduated high school. That means if the all-state catcher returns next season, Eagle River could have two-thirds of its starting lineup intact.
"All these little guys, they'll be good next year," Metzel said. "There's just a lot of talent, and there's a lot of leadership on the team already."
COUGARS 14, WOLVES 11
Friday, July 22, Mulcahy Stadium
Eagle River 0 0 1 9 0 0 0 1 0 11
Service Post 28 2 6 0 0 0 4 1 1 X 14
WP: Matt Yandell, LP: Brandon Metzel
EAGLES 19, WOLVES 14
Saturday, July 23, 2011
West Post 1 (10) 0 0 0 4 0 2 3 0 19
Eagle River 1 5 0 1 2 3 0 1 1 14
WP: Ted Kelly, LP: Jake Wenzl
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, July 27, 2011.