It seemed like Juneau Post 25’s rule of American Legion baseball in Alaska was coming to a close.
The two-time defending state champions were down to their last three outs of the state tournament on Tuesday afternoon at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage. The Midnight Suns trailed 4-3 as they came to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning against South Post 4 in the semifinals, their fifth game in five days under the hot Anchorage sun.
Almost out of nowhere, Juneau’s offense awoke from its slumber. After totaling just four hits through seven innings, the Midnight Suns’ bats came alive in the eighth with three straight singles to secure 4-3 walk-off victory. Juneau carried that dynamic offense into its championship duel against Wasilla Post 35 later in the day —posting 11 hits en route to a 13-8 championship win.
“We told them the scrappiest team is going to win here,” Juneau coach Joe Tompkins said. “There was so much talent in this tournament — this is probably the best tournament that I’ve been to. There was not a lot of blowouts, there was a lot of one-run games, there was a lot of great baseball. Chugiak put us in the loser’s bracket, but they could’ve won it. South could’ve won it. Wasilla definitely could have won it.”
The tournament was filled with drama from the opening pitch on Friday. The Midnight Suns escaped West Post 1, 2-1, in the first round on Friday and Kenai 4-3 in the loser’s bracket on Sunday. In between those two games, Juneau suffered a rare blowout, losing 13-5 to Chugiak Post 33.
“I don’t know what to think at the moment. There’s so many emotions going on right now,” Juneau first baseman Kasey Watts said. “When we lost that first game to Chugiak, no one was really down, we were just mad at the mistakes that we made. But this is the third year that we’ve lost and gone into the loser’s bracket.”
“I’m just proud of how we fought back once again,” Watts said.
Juneau’s three-peat looked in serious danger in the bottom of the seventh inning of the championship game.
The Road Warriors loaded the bases with one out with the game tied at 8. However, Maxim Wanser’s bunt led to a force out at home, and Taylon Ottinger flied out to left field to end the inning, stunning the entire ballpark and giving Juneau a second chance.
In the next inning, Cox ripped a three-run triple that essentially sealed the win over Wasilla.
Cox’s hit was part of a five-run eighth inning for Juneau that also saw shortstop Gabe Storie hit it off the left-field wall.
“We left everything on the table that first game and coming into the second game, I felt like I had nothing left,” Cox said. “But … we came out here, we found the energy, and we made it work.”
The win made for a happy sendoff for Cox, Watts and Donavin McCurley. Watts has played five seasons of Legion baseball and McCurley and Cox four.
“We have mad respect (for each other),” McCurley said. “We just believe in each other and we know exactly what we can do. We’ve seen what we can do. I don’t know really what else to say besides I love these guys, I’ll never forget them.”
The Midnight Suns join West Post 1 and East Post 34 as the only teams to win three or more consecutive state championships. West won five-straight state championships from 1964-1968. Four decades later, East won four straight crowns from 2003-2006.
Juneau now heads to the Northwest Regional in Lewiston, Idaho.
State Tournament Awards
Top Pitcher — Clayton Boyett, Wasilla
Gold Glove — Oliver Mendoza, Juneau
Big Stick — Bobby Cox, Juneau
MVP — Gabe Storie, Juneau
Legion Team of Excellence — First Team
Pitcher — Austin Robertson, Wasilla; Donavin McCurley, Juneau; Logan Smith, Kenai; Leland Wilson, West; Hayden McGarrigan, Ketchikan; Camden Costanios, Chugiak; Sam Hall, Chugiak; Mose Hayes, Kenai.
Relief Pitcher — Jacob Gilbert, Wasilla; Gage Webster, South; Noah Lower, Eagle River.
Catcher — Trystan Costanios, Chugiak; Luke Langnes, West; Nathan James, Kodiak.
Infield — Justin Nevells, Chugiak; Liam Kiffer, Ketchikan; Ricky Gatter, South; Christian Ludeman, Juneau; Wyatt Barajas, Ketchikan; David Michael, Kenai; Clayton Boyett, Wasilla; Matt Thompson, Dimond
Outfield — Jacob Gilbert, Wasilla; Robert Cox, Juneau; Christian Cambridge, Chugiak; Anders Hocum, Kodiak; Luke Guggenmos, Palmer; Gage Webster, South.
Utility — Damian Mohl, South; Taylon Ottinger, Wasilla; Donavin McCurley, Juneau.
Coaches of the Year — Ken Ottinger, Wasilla; Matt McLaughlin, Palmer; Joe Tompkins, Juneau.
Legion Team of Excellence — Honorable Mention
Starting Pitcher — Reid Brock, South; Terren Sugita, South; Braden Olmstead, Eagle River; Sam Maudsley, Service; Luke Langnes, West; Zach Satterly, Palmer; Alex Garcia, North Pole; Jeremiah Eneix, Dimond; Robert Cox, Juneau; Gabe Storie, Juneau.
Relief Pitcher — Harrison Metz, Kenai; Patrick Leshan, East; Zack Barnhart, East.
Catcher — Josh Smith, Service; Dustin Peterson, North Pole; Jacob Dunham, East; Brock McCormick, Juneau.
Infield — John Grantier, Bartlett; Clancy O’Donnell, Wasilla; Reid Brock, South; Terren Sugita, South; Noah Lower, Eagle River; Braden Olmstead, Eagle River; Isaac Roehl, Fairbanks; Sean Giffen, Service; Leland Wilson, West; Jack Opinsky, West; Zach Satterly, Palmer; Owen Hayes, Palmer; Bryant Marks, Palmer; Alex Garcia, North Pole; Jacob Angaiak, Fairbanks; Billy Smith, Chugiak; Chase Solberg, East; Mose Hayes, Kenai.
Outfield — Sam Lebo, West; Jack Dolan, Dimond; Kasey Watts, Juneau; Jeremy Kupferschmid, Kenai.
Utility — Nelson Korshin, Bartlett; Andrew Troppmann, Fairbanks; Harrison Metz, Kenai; Carson McLaughlin, Palmer; Dustin Peterson, North Pole; Orazio Ramos, Eagle River; Logan Smith, Kenai.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or email@example.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.