Heading into this year’s American Legion Alaska State Baseball tournament, the Post 20 Twins are the top seed, with a 17-3 league record this summer. That is three games better than the 14-6 record shared by both South and Wasilla in a runner-up tie.
The Twins also are looking to end the tournament No. 1.
“We started out, we told our players at the start of the year that championships aren’t won in June, and that by July we need to be hitting our stride, because championships are won in August,” Twins head coach Gary Oliver said. “As we move forward, we want to see some progression and be able to go to the state tournament, and I think they’re ready. We’ll see when we get up there.”
Although the tournament kicks off today at Mulcahy Park in Anchorage, Post 20 will receive a bye on the first day because of its sterling record. The first game for the Twins is Saturday at 6:30 p.m., against the winner of East and Eagle River game.
“We’re not changing our style of play, we’re going to keep playing Twins baseball that we’ve been playing all year, and that’s got us this far so there’s no need to change things now,” Oliver said. “We go by the philosophy, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”
Oliver has never been one to keep track of the team’s record as the season goes along, and although he acknowledges that the Twins are the top team in the tournament, he also knows any playoff system is an equalizer.
“Everyone’s record is zero and zero starting Friday, we start all over again, and the seedings from the regular season only determines who plays who,” Oliver said. “All the teams are going to be strong, everyone is going to step up to the plate when it’s the state tournament, and the team that has a letdown is the team that goes home, whoever that is. You play until you lose, and if you lose, you go home.
“Unless you win today, tomorrow makes no difference.”
The game that decides who faces up against the Twins first is slated for Friday, and both East and Eagle River could make life difficult for the Twins.
Kenai split with East this summer 2-2, but both losses were league games, and thus could be the more dangerous of the two.
Kenai’s series against Eagle River this year was much better, as the Twins won all five games.
“If our top guys don’t step up, we’ll probably be in trouble right from the get-go,” Oliver said. “Everyone on the team has done their job and done what they’ve been asked to do all year long, and we don’t expect them to do anything different. We feel confident and like we can win any game we go into, and that’s the way we need to look at it.”
Jake Darrow, AJ Hull, Josiah Covey and Mitchell Thompson have provided much of the hitting power on the team this year, and are expected to play a big role in the outcome of the tournament. All four players will also be playing for the last time with the team, as they will be leaving for different opportunities next year.
“They are four of our top guns, and they’ll be missed next year, but we have some good guys on the A team, so we’ll move some of them up, and hopefully some of the guys on the AA team this year will stay with us and we’ll go from there,” Oliver said. “We’ve got a pretty close team, I mean, they’re all good friends and you’ll see half of them probably playing Frisbee golf after this practice.”
Oliver said the contribution from those players has been appreciated, but also mentioned the coaches that help the players perform at the level needed to win, which include Al Hull, Hector Rivera, J.K. Darrow and Luke Oliver.
But Oliver said performance in the tournament starts with the experienced players.
“This team would not be where it’s at if not for them,” he said. “And it shows, because even if one guy has an off day, there’s always someone in the lineup who can pick up the slack. Everyone in our lineup is capable of hitting the ball.”
The championship game is scheduled for Aug. 3 at 2 p.m.