The Post 20 Twins opened the Bill Miller Big Fish Tournament with two wins Tuesday, including the first victory over a former Legion World Series champion in the program's history.
The Twins started the day with a 7-2 victory over Eagle River at Coral Seymour Memorial Park before defeating Columbia (Tenn.) 2-0 in the nightcap. Columbia won the World Series in 2007 and has produced its share of pro ballplayers, most notably All-Star second baseman Dan Uggla of the Atlanta Braves.
"I think it just proves what we've been telling the players from the start of the season," Twins head coach Gary Oliver said after his team moved to 21-7 overall. "This team can go as far as it wants to go.
"They've got the speed, pitching and hitting."
Wood bats are used in the tournament, making hitting more difficult. Columbia was able to hit some balls hard, but the Twins defense was nearly flawless — making one error — in keeping Columbia off the board.
The tone was set on the first batter of the game, when Columbia's Dathan Prewitt ripped a ball to deep center field, only to see AJ Hull get a perfect jump and track the ball down.
"Flat out, I think that we have the best defense in the league," Twins first baseman Mitchell Thompson said. "We are strong at all nine positions, and anyone off the bench can also come in and play well."
Mickey McKeel, who has won seven state championships in his 12 years at the helm of Columbia, said arriving in Kenai at 1 a.m. Tuesday didn't help his squad, but credited the Twins with a well-played game.
"It was a great game," McKeel said. "Wood bats even things out a whole lot. They made every play on defense."
The Twins used three pitchers to get through the seven innings. Each gave up just one hit.
Josiah Covey pitched the first three innings and faced just 10 batters. He said he wasn't about to challenge the Columbia hitters.
"I was working a lot of off-speed low and outside," Covey said. "I think I threw five, or maybe six, fastballs in my three innings. I only threw it when I had to."
Max Hegge pitched the next two innings. Columbia got runners to third base in each of those innings. In the bottom of the fifth, with the Twins clinging to a 1-0 lead, a runner on third and two outs, Dakota Underwood hit a sinking liner to center field that Hull slid and caught for the third out.
Ethan Oliver got the ball next. In the seventh inning, with the Twins up 2-0, Nick Holt walked to begin the inning, then Desi Ammons followed with a single. Oliver retired the next three batters to end the game.
"Our pitching really came through today, especially considering the two aces of our staff weren't even used," Gary Oliver said.
The Twins only got to Columbia starter and loser Zack Brewer for five hits, but those hits tended to be bunched up and clutch.
In the first inning, Hector Rivera drove a double to the left-center gap with one out, then moved to third on a ground-out by Hull. Covey then singled up the middle for a 1-0 lead.
"I was just trying to put the ball in play," Covey said. "He had a good slider, good off-speed, and he was one of the fastest pitchers we've seen this year."
The Twins moved an unearned run across in the sixth. Rivera reached on an error, moved to second on a single by Hull and took third on a ground-out by Covey.
Thompson then delivered another two-out hit for a 2-0 lead.
Thompson said his swing has been off for a week and a half, but work on the tee with assistant coach John Darrow before the game paid off.
"We've had several two-out rallies this year," Gary Oliver said. "That shows maturity."
The Twins play Strongsville (Ohio) today at 9 a.m. at Coral Seymour Memorial Park for the right to go to the championship game. The other semifinal features Castroville (Texas) against Columbia at noon at Seymour Park. Also, East and Eagle River play at noon at the Kenai Little League fields.
In other tournament games Tuesday, Castroville and Strongsville tied 3-3, Columbia defeated Eagle River 4-1, Strongsville defeated East 8-3 and Castroville defeated East 10-0.
In the Twins earlier victory over Eagle River, Tay Harling pitched six innings of shutout ball for the Twins, giving up just two hits. Mitchell Daugherty yielded two runs in an inning of relief.
On offense, Jake Darrow was 3 for 3 with three runs and an RBI, Hull was 4 for 4 with an RBI and Covey was 2 for 4 with an RBI.
Thompson said the Twins can't let the successful Tuesday go to their heads.
"This victory puts a target on our backs, not only in the rest of this tournament, but also for the rest of the league season," he said.