The American Legion Post 20 Twins opened their 2012 season by splitting a doubleheader with East on Sunday at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai.
East picked up the first game — the conference tilt — 4-3. The Twins notched a 15-6 victory in the nonconference affair. East is now 1-2 in the conference and 1-4 overall.
"For the opening game, I liked what I saw," Twins manager Gary Oliver said. "Even though we lost, we're obviously not at full strength yet."
The Twins will be getting a handful of players off the Kenai Central team that finished sixth in the state Saturday, but all of those players were given the day off Sunday. Oliver, whose son Ethan plays for the Kards, did not even get home from state until late Saturday night.
"We haven't even had a practice yet — that I know of," Oliver said.
He said the team will get better as players from schools like Kenai, Soldotna, Skyview, Homer and Kodiak jell. The nice thing is those players, for the most part, already have a high school season under their belts.
"The high school season puts us ahead of where we used to be," Oliver said. "They already have a month of pitching and batting in a live game."
The first game of the day belonged to the pitchers, as East got five hits and the Twins got four hits. The temperatures were in the 50s, with the sky periodically spitting a few drops of rain.
"With the weather, I don't think anybody was looking forward to swinging the bats too much," East coach Ryan Murray said.
Austin Anderson started for East and pitched seven innings, giving up three hits and two runs — one of which was earned. Anderson walked just one and struck out five.
"He threw very well," Murray said. "He kept the ball down in the zone and threw strikes."
Anderson, a senior who played his high school ball in Arizona this year, had just 82 pitches going into the eighth inning.
He pitched to two batters in the inning before Bradley Hudson came on in relief. Hudson, also a senior, allowed the two inherited runners in the eighth to score, and allowed an unearned run in the ninth. He gave up just one hit in two innings of work.
"Our seniors definitely came in and got the job done," Murray said.
Murray said the Thunderbirds are very young. Except for Anderson, Hudson and shortstop Luke Schnellbaecher, everybody in Sunday's lineup was a freshman or sophomore.
Twins starter Max Hegge was nearly just as good as Anderson. Hegge pitched the first six innings and gave up four hits and three runs — but none of those runs were earned.
"Max looked good," Oliver said. "He's coming off a solid season at Soldotna."
Jake Darrow took over in relief and gave up one run and one hit in three innings, while striking out five and walking just one.
Oliver said Darrow is an example of how the high school programs are bolstering the Twins pitching staff. In high school ball, a lot of games are pushed into a short period of time and nearly everybody on the team becomes a pitcher. That means players like Darrow, who has mostly been a middle infielder for the Twins, have more comfort on the mound once the Twins season starts.
With the batters struggling, East took advantage of a Twins mistake for the game's big rally. In the fifth inning, the Thunderbirds had runners on second and third with two outs. An error earlier in the inning meant the inning should have been over.
Hudson, who finished 2 for 4, doubled home two of the runs, then Luke Schnellbaecher followed with a single to give East a 3-0 lead. In the seventh inning, Hudson doubled again to score Bryce Dorshkind and push the score to 4-0.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Twins loaded the bases with nobody out, but were not able to push any runs across.
The Twins finally got on the board in the eighth inning when Josiah Covey and Tommy Bowe, who had two of the Twins hits, both grounded out to score runners and push the score to 4-2.
In the ninth inning, the Twins had runners on first and second with two outs when an error by shortstop Luke Schnellbaecher allowed Mitchel Daugherty to score and prolonged the game. With the tying run at second, Hegge popped out to end the game.
The second game was more of a proving ground for younger players.
"They definitely throttled back on the pitching and softened the infield because they were working other kids," Twins assistant Mike Griffin said of the Thunderbirds. "That's what the nonconference games are for."
The Twins put four 14-year-olds in the lineup — Josh Darrow, Justice Miller, Tyler Covey and Kenny Griffin. All hit at least .250, while Griffin was 2 for 4 with two RBIs and two runs, and Covey was 1 for 2.
Josiah Covey, a 2011 graduate of SoHi, got the start and pitched four innings, giving up five runs — three earned — while striking out seven and walking none. Covey has been working out at SoHi and attending Kenai Peninsula College.
Daugherty pitched the final three innings, giving up an earned run while walking four.
Also for the Twins on offense, Hegge was 2 for 3 with three RBIs, while Tay Harling was 1 for 2 with two runs.
Thunderbird 4, Twins 3, 1st game
Anderson, Hudson (8) and M. Schnellbaecher; Hegge, Darrow (7) and Barton. W — Anderson. L — Hegge. S — Hudson. 2B — East: Hudson 2. LOB — East 8, Twins 8.
Twins 15, East 6, 7 innings
Valdez, Dobbs (4) and Haesali, Soto (4); Covey, Daugherty (5) and Griffin. W — Covey. L — Valdez. 2B — East: Soto; Twins: Bowe, Hegge. 3B — East: L. Schnellbaecher; Twins: Rowe. LOB — East 5, Twins 7.