NWCART: Christian and Rafferty combine for 1-hit shutout as Service blanks Couer d’Alene (ID) 4-0 on Day 1

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Posted by Van Williams, ALB Media Director | Aug 4, 2023

Missing three starters didn’t disrupt the rhythm of the Service Cougars on Day 1 of the Northwest Class A Regional Tournament.

Neither did having to use its emergency catcher.

Service leaned on its trademark pitching as Hunter Christian and Jake Rafferty combined for a 1-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts in Friday’s 4-0 win over Couer d’Alene (ID) in Havre, Montana.

This was the second straight year the Cougars threw a shutout in the first game of the NWCART. Last year, Rafferty and two relievers beat Vernal (UT) 7-0.

This time Rafferty got the save, sealing the win for Christian, last week’s state tournament MVP, who improved to 3-0 in the postseason.

The 5-foot-11 right-hander struck out 10 in 5.1 innings and allowed one hit and two walks. The only hit came in the fourth inning, when Idaho’s Mark Holecek hit a sharp groundball under the glove of Rafferty at first base.

Christian struck out five straight near the end before coming out after 80 pitches. He was replaced by Rafferty, a 6-foot-4, 235-pound right-hander, who struck out the first two batters he faced to end the sixth inning with a runner on base.

He threw a 1-2-3 seventh to close out head coach Willie Paul’s third career NWCART victory against a Lower 48 team.

NWCART wins for Alaska coaches vs. Outside teams

4 – Ken Ottinger, Wasilla
3 – Willie Paul, Service
2 – Andy Macauley, Juneau
2 – Vic Aure, Fairbanks
2 – Russ Baker, South
1 – Chris Williams, South

The Cougars (26-8) advanced in the winner’s bracket and will play Saturday against Belgrade (MT), a 5-0 winner over Idaho Falls (ID).

Service played without starters Coen and Rilen Niclai, who did not make the trip, and Owen Hickman, who is out with a broken thumb. Coen Niclai is the starting catcher and Hickman is the backup backstop; their absence forced Service to ask for volunteers and outfielder Landon Martindale begged for the job, Paul said.

The unsung hero of this victory, Martindale had not played behind the plate since Little League – and it showed as he froze after a few strikeouts, unsure which base to throw to for a traditional post-K around-the-horn. He even retrieved a ball that got to the backstop with nobody on base, rather than just asking the umpire for a new ball.

The 5-foot-9, 145-pounder stood tall during his on-the-job training. He caught a 1-hitter, allowed one passed ball and zero stolen bases as Couer d’Alene didn’t test him.

Then again, the Lumbermen (23-16) put only three runners on base.

Christian and Rafferty were that good. No surprise. They’ve been lights out all season.

Christian | 6-1 | 1.36ERA | 45K | 36IP
Rafferty | 5-2 | 1.18ERA | 68K | 41.2IP

Service’s victory was the 14th for an Alaska team over Outside competition at the NWCART since 1998, which is believed to be the first year the tournament included the state runner-up from The Last Frontier. By comparison, Alaska state champions have recorded 16 wins since 1954 at the Northwest Regional.

The difference in competition is massive as teams in the Northwest Regional draw from three and four high schools whereas teams in the NWCART draw from one high school like in Alaska.

The playing field is balanced in the NWCART, which is why you see Alaska teams fare so much better. In 2019, the Wasilla Road Warriors reached the title game, and four other teams have advanced to the final four – Fairbanks in 2009, South in 2013, Juneau in 2014 and Wasilla in 2021.

On Friday, Service struck for the game’s first run in the third inning after Rafferty led off with a walk and came around to score on Andrew Hickman’s sac fly.

Couer d’Alene left-handed pitcher Charlie Dixon racked up eight strikeouts through four innings and ended each frame with a punchout. At one point he fanned seven of 10 batters, five looking.

In the fifth, Service scored two runs as its lead swelled to 3-0. Carson Maltby reached on a hit by pitch and scored on an error and Sebastian Fournier banged out a two-out RBI single.

The Alaskans made it 4-0 in the sixth after Trevor Maltby singled, stole second base, went to third on Chase Mascelli’s beautiful bunt single and scored on Carson Maltby’s RBI groundout.

Mascelli, a Gold Glove shortstop, made a great play going to his left and making a strong throw to get the first out of the seventh inning and set the table for a clean inning.

Service 001 021 0 – 4 6 1
Couer d’Alene 000 000 0 – 0 1 3
Service – Christian, Rafferty (6) and Martindale. Couer d’Alene – Dixon, Kramer (6) and Franklin. W – Christian. L – Dixson. SV – Rafferty. 2B – None. 3B – None. HR – None.