Don’t call it an upset, Chugiak and Eagle River say they belong

Posted by Van Williams, ALB Media Director | Jul 30, 2012

After three days of the state tournament, a lot of people might be shocked to see No. 6 Chugiak and No. 8 Eagle River alone in the winner’s bracket.

But their coaches aren’t surprised.

"I knew we had a chance," said Chugiak Post 33 manager Bill Lierman. "I just think during the season and throughout the season we’ve been working on the process and trying to get better all the time.

"I know it’s a cliché, but our players have bought into that."

Chugiak [16-16] got to Wednesday’s state semifinal game with victories over No. 11 West, No. 3 Wasilla and No. 2 South.

Meanwhile, Eagle River has played the role of giant killer, knocking off No. 9 East, No. 1 Kenai and No. 5 Fairbanks.

Kenai had been 5-0 against Eagle River this season and Fairbanks whipped the Wolves 21-0 two weeks before state.

When it mattered most, though, Eagle River [12-19] found a way to flip the script.

"We’ve battled injuries all year, that’s been our biggest setback," said Eagle River head coach Gregg Frost. "We’ve never been able to put a healthy team on the field.

"We’re finally playing baseball with a team full of healthy kids. That’s been the biggest difference."

The biggest surprise in the tournament came Saturday when Eagle River upset No. 1 Kenai, 5-0, behind David Fuller’s CG.

The next night the Wolves pulled off another stunner, beating Fairbanks 9-8 and ending the game with a double play with two on.

"They feed off each other," Frost said. "They realize everybody is healthy, everybody is ready to go, and it gives everybody as a whole more confidence."

That confidence, however, can waver at the end of close games.

"The kids never stopped believing in themselves all year," Frost said. "We’ve been in a lot of one-run games this summer and they’ve learned to deal with that pressure because of that."

Now they will face Chugiak in the state semifinals Wednesday night at Mulcahy Stadium.

"I think it’s good for the community and for the kids," Frost said. "It’s our biggest rivalry game and to have it in that setting, under those circumstances, it’s going to be one to remember that’s for sure."

For Chugiak, making a run at the state tournament is nothing new. It seems like the Mustangs are in the hunt every year, dating back to when Lierman played in the 1990s.

They do things the right way. No shortcuts.

"It all starts with the leadership of our older guys," Lierman said. "They have worked extremely hard and had a fun time doing it. I think that filters down to the other guys."

Chugiak is playing its best baseball at the right time and has the weapons to beat you in a slugfest or arms race.

The Post 33 offense is averaging 10.3 runs per game and the pitching staff has a 2.33 ERA in 27 innings.

"Our program plays everybody on our roster throughout the regular season and everybody has a chance to win one of nine spots in the state tournament," Lierman said. "Once we’re at state, we play our best nine. The other guys know they could get called on at any time."