As defending American Legion AA state champions, the Post 20 Twins baseball team will have one of the biggest targets on their backs this year.
Even if they hadn’t won the title last summer, it would be fair to say they would have a big target on them, and head coach Gary Oliver knows it.
“That target just magnifies,” Oliver said during a wet practice on Wednesday afternoon. “You always have a target on your back even if you have just a good season. To win the championship the way that we did, and with the dominating season record we had in our league, you know we have a giant target.”
The Twins capped a 17-3 regular season (29-8 overall) in 2012 with a remarkable state championship in August. Post 20 was upset by Eagle River in its first game of the tournament, only to fight its way back through the second-chance bracket and beat Chugiak in two games for the title.
Interestingly enough, the Twins will open their season today with a trip up to Eagle River to take on the Wolves. The Twins’ first home game will be this Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at the Kenai Little League fields, when they face Service.
“I saw the schedule come out and I thought, ‘Whoa, we’re up against our nemesis,’” Oliver said about the first game against Eagle River.
As the defending state champions, what will it take to repeat? Oliver believes that as long as the squad can take care of the fundamental aspects well, another hot season should be in the works.
“I think the team is capable of it,” he said. “It’s an interesting mix, so we’ll see how they jel. We’ve got three parts to the season. There’s the preseason, the middle of the season and the end part, and it either all comes together or it doesn’t. Last year it all came together.
“Do we have enough talent to do it? Yes, I think we do.”
Unfortunately, the team will be without some of their biggest hitters from a year ago.
Jake Darrow, AJ Hull, Josiah Covey and Mitchell Thompson comprised four of the top five sluggers on the Twins’ batting lineup, and all of them have aged out.
“Offensively and defensively, we have some big shoes to fill there, but I think we have another good group of players this year,” Oliver said. “We’ll see what we can do this year.”
With more than 30 regular season games on the schedule, it’s also always important to possess pitching depth, and Oliver said the team’s top ace on the mound from last year is back — Brandon Mahle from Kodiak, although he hasn’t had a practice with the team yet due to foggy conditions at the Kodiak airstrip.
“We’re going to have to have some guys that do a lot of middle relief,” Oliver said. “Some of them are going to have to step up, and we’re going to have to come up with another starting pitcher or two.
Oliver’s son, Ethan, will likely also see time on the mound, which is good news. The younger Oliver suffered a broken leg in a prep football game last August but has made a complete recovery.
“We got some young guys that we’ll be bringing up from our ‘A’ team from last year, we’ll see how well they’ve matured and if they’re ready for it,” coach Oliver said. “We have some guys that are missing still, it’s early in the year, and it’s been hard to get everyone together.
“We don’t even have a full head count of guys who are going to be playing this year.”
Two teams tied for second in the league standings last year behind the Twins — Wasilla and South, with identical 14-6 records, and Oliver said he believes those two squads will again challenge Post 20 for the top spot in the standings, along with powerhouse schools Chugiak and Dimond and younger teams East and Eagle River.
However, when it comes down to it, the Twins’ versatility and strong fundamental play should prevail.
“We’re a well-balanced team, and we’re going to go out and play Twins baseball,” Oliver said.