The American Legion Twins open up state-tournament play today against Bartlett at 9 a.m. at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage.
The Twins, who come in at 9-11 in the league and 11-21 overall, split a pair of league games against the Golden Bears this season, with each side winning on its home field.
"They've been playing some pretty good baseball the last couple of weeks," said Twins Post manager and team manager Lance Coz of his squad. "The only thing that's different is, naturally, with teenage boys early morning games can be a problem."
The Twins, the tourney's No. 7 seed, won their last two league games, beating Bartlett, the No. 10 seed, and South, the No. 4 seed. Coz also pointed out that a 3-2 loss to No. 3 seed Service also came within the last couple of weeks.
"We can compete with the top guys," Coz said.
The Twins, who won state titles in 1991 and 1995, face two big challenges at the tournament: youth and pitching.
"It's a young ballclub starting to mature," Coz said. "They're starting to reach the type of level it takes for a good tournament run."
Coz, who has been involved with the Twins program since 1977, said success in the tournament typically requires four starters and a strong reliever. AJ Hull, by winning against South, and Josiah Covey, by winning against Bartlett, showed they are ready for the tournament.
Other pitchers have shown they can pitch on the varsity level though, pitchers like right-hander Tay Harling and left-handers Kevin Rowe and Mason Kanakis. Ben Barton will be back with the Twins on Sunday if the team is still alive.
"Like I explained to the team, on the third or fourth day, things start to change for everybody," Coz said. "That's when it gets interesting."
On offense, Coz said the team should be fine. Jake Darrow leads off and has a .488 batting average and a .645 on-base percentage in league play. Darrow sets the table for Hull, batting .391 with an on-base percentage of .565, and Covey, hitting .358 with an on-base percentage of .615.
Darrow, Hull and Covey are the Twins' nominees for the Team of Excellence, which will be announced tonight.
Aliober Rivera also has given the offense a spark by hitting .311 in his first year on varsity. Coz also said Ethan Oliver can get hot at the plate.
"Our hitting is pretty consistent," he said.
Coz also said the team's defense is rounding into form. He said Darrow has filled a hole by moving from second to third base, while Rivera has filled in nicely at second.
He said the team's catchers, Shayne Miller and Dylan Morrison, are learning the nuances of the position. He also said players, like Johnnie Wilson at third or Brian Rowe in the outfield, can provide a boost if it's needed.
"I think this is always an interesting tournament," Coz said. "Every team in the state gets to compete, and that's what makes it interesting."
Every team in the state usually competes, but East has been suspended from the tournament, cutting the field to 10. Dimond is the top seed, while Fairbanks is second. If the Twins win their first game, they would play Fairbanks on Saturday at 3:15 p.m. With a loss in their first game, the Twins would face elimination Saturday at noon against the loser of the Wasilla-South game.