With the Alaska Legion National Division baseball standings so tight for the three state slots allotted to the division, Post 20 Twins coach Hector Rivera on Thursday decided to rest his star pitcher Dallas Pierren for a crucial Saturday division game against Bartlett.
Rivera opted to start SoHi junior Calvin Hills against West at Coral Seymour Memorial Park, and Hills made the most of his first division start in 2014 to help the Twins to a 4-1 win.
Coming into the day, the Twins were sitting fifth in the standings, but the victory jumped Post 20 (9-5 league, 13-9 overall) ahead of Kodiak and Bartlett to third place in the National Division standings with 41 points. Bartlett lost its game against Palmer later in the day to keep the Twins in third.
“This is very important,” Rivera said. “We still have four games with back-to-back doubleheaders this weekend. Those are must-win games for us.
“The guys are very relaxed and doing their job.”
Hills, who got the win with a tidy 74 pitches, said his sharp curveball proved to be most effective against West.
“I was throwing them off a lot with that,” Hills said. “I went to the bullpen a few days ago and practiced, and I was just trying to stick to my windup.”
Hills went five innings on the mound, giving up no runs on four hits, three walks (including a hit by pitch) and five strikeouts.
In the second, nonleague game, the Twins beat West 7-2, with Mathew Daugherty getting the start on the mound. Daugherty went four innings with two earned runs on two hits, two walks and one strikeout. But the work by Hills in the first game kept the Twins’ postseason hopes running strong.
“He did a good job for us,” Rivera said. “I wanted to give him an opportunity to get him a ‘W’ on his record, and he did a good job.”
Josh Darrow relieved Hills in the sixth inning, giving up no runs on one hit, no walks and three strikeouts.
Rivera’s son, Hector, led the Twins at the plate with a 2-for-3 day with two runs, while teammates JJ Sonnen and Pierren each added a hit. Pierren and Darrow each also had two RBIs.
“We’re having trouble hitting the slow pitch,” coach Rivera said. “We get anybody that can throw hard, and we do very darn good. When we get a slower pitcher, we have trouble hitting the ball.”
West pitcher Dillon Oberly tossed a complete game for the Eagles, giving up four runs (two earned) on four hits and five walks (including a hit by pitch) in six innings of work.
“It’s hard for us to score,” Rivera said. “This game should’ve been 2-1, but we got some breaks.”
The Twins had a few chances early on, leaving two runners stranded on second and third base in the first inning, but made up for it on defense, turning a 4-3 double play in the top of the second with quick work from Sonnen and Klayton Justice.
With two outs in the bottom of the second, Pierren knocked out a single to center field that scored Rivera for the Twins’ first run of the game.
West nearly tied it up in the top of the fifth beginning with a walk from Mike Miller. Miller then stole second and third, but was ultimately caught stealing home to end the inning.
In the bottom of the fifth, Pierren belted a hit to left field that brought Rivera in to score again, but Pierren was tagged out while going for a triple. Fortunately, Rivera’s run counted since it occurred before Pierren’s out was recorded.
West scored its lone run in the sixth inning on a passed ball by Twins catcher Tommy Bowe. Billy Ballantine made it to home plate safely.
The Twins added two runs in the bottom of the sixth on a sacrifice fly ball by Darrow, which led to errors by West’s catcher and third baseman, which allowed Tyler Covey and Hills to score.
“I was getting a little angry honestly,” Hills said about the late innings. “We had runners on base and I didn’t want to lose the game, so I use that to take a deep breath and step on the mound.”
In the second game of the day, Joey Becher relieved Daugharty on the mound and was impressive, pitching a hitless final three innings with two walks and seven strikeouts.
The Twins scored five runs in the second inning, highlighted by a triple and a steal of home from Pierren. Justice Miller and Rivera contributed two RBIs each as well.
The Twins face Bartlett in a doubleheader Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Seymour Park, and Eagle River Sunday at the same time and place.
“We need Dallas for Bartlett,” Rivera said.