Amidst the excitement and anxiety that go along with qualifying for a state tournament, the Legion AA Twins are going into this weekend with some extra pep in their step.
The state-bound team had the opportunity to listen to words of advice from former major league pitcher Chris Mabeus, who is also a former Twins and Peninsula Oilers player. Mabeus was in town Tuesday and spent about a half hour talking to the players.
“He stopped by and talked about how important it is to have their best work now,” said Twins coach Hector Rivera. “It was about how good they’ll feel tomorrow if they play good today.”
Rivera said Mabeus informed them that when he was playing for Oakland in the minor leagues, he was able to learn a lot from roommate Nick Swisher. The experience he gathered and hard effort is what helped him make it to the majors.
“I think we all enjoyed it,” Rivera said.
Mabeus is a Soldotna High School product and pitched for the Twins in the late 1990s, and was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 13th round of the 2001 amateur draft. He ended up pitching in only one game in his career, coming in May 2006 with the Milwaukee Brewers.
With that extra bit of perspective, perhaps Post 20 is ready to go after the team’s fourth state legion championship, beginning today with a 3:15 p.m. matchup with Eagle River at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage.
The Twins (12-6 league, 16-10 overall) are riding high after ending the season with five wins in the final six games. So will that momentum transfer into the state championship?
“We’ve won four of them with ten runs, so our guys are hitting,” Rivera said. “They’re playing good defense, the pitchers are lined up and throwing strikes. We’re looking good.”
Rivera said his squad has been good hitting from the usual suspects, but has also gotten hits out of the younger players. Tenured batters at the top of the lineup such as Hector A. Rivera, Tommy Bowe, Dallas Pierren and Kenny Griffin have shown their stuff, but names like Cody Quelland and JJ Sonnen have vastly improved. Rivera said Sonnen is batting around .350 for the season.
But in a state title run, pitching is often where games are decided, and the Twins have thrived in the final stretch of the regular season with a deep rotation.
Pierren has led the way, sporting a 3-1 record on the mound with an ERA of 3.35, but Post 20 has been able to squeeze solid innings out of Klayton Justice, Calvin Hills, Tyler Covey and even the younger Rivera.
Justice tossed a complete game against Bartlett last Saturday and allowed just one run in five innings, Covey pitched five innings against Eagle River the next day and allowed a single run, and Hills went five frames against West earlier in the week and gave up zero runs on four hits.
“Our pitching depth has given us a lot of opportunities,” coach Rivera said, who added that Pierren will be getting the start in the first game today against Eagle River.
“It all depends on how the games go,” Rivera said. “I’m gonna try to use him for five innings, that’s the plan. We’ll try to minimize the use of pitchers, we want to have everyone fresh and ready.”
If the Twins are a superstitious bunch, then they can take solace in the fact that they’ll be starting their tournament off the same way they did for their championship run in 2012; with an opening game against Eagle River.
Of course, the 2012 squad won the title the hard way by losing to the Wolves in a 6-0 upset on the first day of the state tournament, only to rally back through the losers bracket to claim the state championship in a wild comeback.
“That game came into the conversation, but we’re not thinking about that,” Rivera said. “If you look at the bracket, if you win four games, you win state.
“That’s all we’re thinking about, win four and get out of there. We don’t want to think about the losers bracket.”
The Twins will face an Eagle River squad that just split a doubleheader with them last Sunday. The Twins won the first game 7-3 but lost the second 15-5. The winner gets a rest day and will play its next game Sunday, while the loser will be placed into the losers bracket, which begins Saturday.
Rivera said the grind of the regular season has prepared the Twins for a long week of tournament play.
“We’ve played two games Sunday, two Saturday, two on Thursday, and two last Sunday,” he said. “We’ve played back-to-back doubleheaders this year, and I was criticizing that at first, but it’s prepared us for state.”
The American Legion state championship game is scheduled for next Thursday at 2 p.m. at Mulcahy Stadium. If the winner is the team that came from the losers bracket, then an if-necessary championship game will be played at 6 p.m.