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Twins ready for Northwest Regional

Posted: August 8, 2012 - 11:44pm

The weather? Yes, that will take some getting used to.

The competition? It turns out the Post 20 Twins have seen a similar caliber this season.

The state-champion Twins open play in the American Legion AA Northwest Regional Tournament in Billings, Mont., today at 7:30 a.m. ADT against Waipahu, Hawaii. The game can be followed at www.mtsportscast.com.

The Twins will have not faced weather this year like they face today. Twins assistant Hector Rivera, who will be serving as head coach on the trip due to the absence of Gary Oliver, said the temperature was 48 degrees when the Twins left Kenai, and 97 degrees when they touched down in Montana on Wednesday.

"The ball will travel better, I'll tell you that much," Rivera said. "We just need them to be hydrated all the time."

The competition will not be as much of a shock as the heat. Like the Twins, both Columbia (Tenn.) and Castroville (Texas) won their Legion state championships.

Both were in the Bill Miller Big Fish Tournament in early July. The Twins beat Columbia 2-0, the first victory for Post 20 over a program that had won the Legion World Series.

The Twins did not get a chance to match up with Castroville in the tourney, but Post 20 did beat a Strongsville (Ohio) team that had tied Texas 3-3 earlier in the tournament.

"They don't know all that yet," Rivera said Wednesday afternoon. "We're going to tell them in a team meeting tonight.

"They can play the game as well or better than the other guys."

The Twins (36-9 overall) are a red-hot baseball team right now, for reasons other than being in sizzling Montana. Post 20 was the No. 1 seed at state, but lost its opening game, meaning it had to win seven straight games to take the program's third state crown — and first since 1995 — and earn the berth to Montana.

The only bad news for the Twins is that AJ Hull will not be playing in Montana. Hull could not get out of college commitments.

Oliver said one of the reason's for the Twins' success is how much the players like playing the game.

"They're ready and excited to get there," Oliver said. "We were kidding them the other day, 'You had to take the long road to get state taken care of.'

"They said, 'Coach, we love the game so much we wanted to keep it going as long as we could.'"

Oliver said the leadership of the Twins senior players — Josiah Covey, Mitchell Thompson and Jake Darrow — will be pivotal in Montana.

"We have several players on that team that have been in Legion ball for three or four years," Oliver said. "It's an experienced group, but we have a good mix of younger ones coming up.

"With the (Bill Miller) wood bat tournament and the success we had at the state tournament, everyone is coming together just fine and we hope we've laid a good foundation for next year."

Against Columbia, the Twins did not have the better pitchers and hitters. After the game, Twins batters said the Columbia pitcher threw as hard as anybody they'd seen this year.

And the Twins did not even use top pitchers Hull or Brandon Mahle — who gets the start today — in the game.

But the Twins defense was superior to Columbia, committing just one error and taking runs off the board with sterling plays.

That trend continued at state, with plays like Ethan Oliver's diving catch to end a game Saturday making the difference.

"Our defense has just been really good and on top of it," Gary Oliver said. "When we did make an error or two, a lot of times teams will start dropping their head, but this team doesn't do that.

"They seem to pick each other up, shake it off and get to the next batter."

The Twins also have great depth. Players from Kenai Central, Soldotna, Skyview, Homer and Kodiak high schools came together to make the team, and all those high schools play spring baseball except for Skyview.

"I noticed at the tournament in Anchorage, normally when you get through the four to six batters, you have a bit of a break facing the seven, eight, nine hitters," Oliver said. "Not with our team."

That depth also shows up on the pitching staff. Winning seven straight games at a state tournament, the last four coming in two straight days? Enough said.

"High school has definitely gotten all the pitchers throwing earlier," Oliver said.

The coach said he hopes the same factors that worked at state will work in Montana.

"Obviously, we took care of our business and were successful," he said. "Hopefully, it carries over into this tournament."

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