A handful of American Legion Twins players were only 15 years old last summer when they were inserted into the Alaska American Legion state tournament.
Some, according to coach John Butler, were a bit overwhelmed.
They adapted quickly, though, as the Twins made an unexpected run to the championship game before valiantly falling to Chugiak.
"With those guys seeing how the state tournament was, how it was going and what it's going to take, they're not going to be in awe of it," he said. "This year, it's just a ballgame."
With eight members of last season's squad back, the eighth-seeded Twins will try and replicate that surprising midsummer run when they take the field against ninth-seeded West at 10 a.m. today in the tourney opener at Mulcahy Stadium.
"I'm hoping that this year since most of the guys know what it's going to take, that they'll come out and finally play up to their potential and how good they can play," Butler said. "We've played real well in spurts but not consistently this year.
"We're hoping to put it all together this year."
Butler admitted he was surprised last year when the Twins came up just shy of capturing the team's first state championship since 1995.
"I knew the guys were capable of playing good baseball, considering how hard they played every ballgame," he said. "It did surprise me a little bit last year."
This year's team is rather similar, too. And Butler is hoping for a similar outcome.
"We haven't played up to our potential this year and I'm hoping that during this run we're actually going to play up to our potential," he said. "Real similar to what it was last year. ... I hope for a little bit better results."
The Twins -- who finished the season at 19-20 overall and 8-12 in the league -- won two of three games against West this season, the only setback coming after nine errors on the Twins' part.
Untimely miscues have plagued the Twins over the course of the summer, though.
"If we don't limit our errors, we're going to be two-and-done because the games that we won are the games we didn't make any critical errors," Butler said of the double-elimination tournament. "We had five-plus errors in the games that we lost.
"The errors ... are what's going to determine how we do."
So is pitching.
Larsen Kohler will take the hill against West and should they win, Josh Gilbert will take the Hermon Brothers Field mound on Saturday at 5 p.m. against top-seeded Chugiak, who beat the Twins twice this season, including a 6-3 win on the heels of four Twins' errors.
If the Twins lose to West, they'll take on the loser of the Service-Wasilla game at noon on Saturday at Oberg Field in Eagle River.
"We'll have Larsen on the hill (today), so everybody's pretty confident about that," Butler said, adding he's not looking ahead but likes the prospect of Gilbert throwing on Saturday. "We have 1 and 1A going back-to-back for us, well-rested. The defense has been playing a whole lot better about the last eight ball games."
He specifically mentioned the outfield, consisting of Justice Elson, Braden Price, Mikey Griffin and Kohler, as playing extremely well at the moment.
"If our infield can play solid, we feel pretty good about it," he said. "We don't think we're going to get blown out.
"The other teams, I'm sure they feel the same way we do. They feel they can play with just about anybody," Butler added. "This group is finally starting to play together so we're looking forward to it."
Especially if they earn another shot at the Mustangs, who thwarted the Twins backdoor route to the state championship last season after they lost their second game and ripped off four straight wins.
"The guys aren't afraid of them this year," Butler said. "So we're actually in pretty good shape with them with how the guys are feeling.
"We're hoping we built up enough momentum over the last 10 days of the season to kind of carry us in there."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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