NWCART: Red-hot Redmond (OR) rallies in 6th inning to beat Service 8-6 in title game

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Posted by Van Williams, ALB Media Director | Aug 8, 2023

For a team marred by heartbreaking defeats, this one was especially gut wrenching.

A two-out error cost the Service Cougars in Tuesday’s title game of the Northwest Class A Regional Tournament as Redmond, Oregon, capitalized on the fielding mistake to take the lead in the bottom of the sixth inning and win 8-6 at American Legion Field in Havre, Montana.

Redmond tacked on an insurance run on a wild pitch, but the damage had been done as the Oregonians won their fifth straight tournament game and beat Service for the second time in as many days, both times fighting back from a four-run deficit.

It was a stinging setback for the Cougars, who had tied it 6-6 with two outs in the top of the sixth and were gunning for Alaska’s first regional championship at the Legion level.

They had dusted themselves off after losing the state tournament title game 1-0 two weeks ago on a no-hitter and charged into the NWCART title game, only to lose on a gut punch.

In a matter of moments, the Cougars went from on top of the world, after left field Trevor Maltby threw out the tying run at the plate for the second out of the inning, to feeling the weight of the world, after the error came two batters later.

Service had shifted its shortstop directly behind the bag, so when the batter smacked a grounder right to him, it looked like genius coaching. But the ball took a bad hop on the dirt field, bounced off his glove and ricocheted into the outfield to allow the go-ahead run to score.

There’s plenty of blame to go around when a team blows a 5-1 lead. However, the loss shouldn’t take the shine off the team’s sparkling effort at a regional tournament that has long haunted teams from The Last Frontier.

From 1998 to 2008, Alaska teams didn’t win a game at the NWCART. In 2009, the Fairbanks 49ers became the first Alaska team to make the tournament’s final four. In 2019, the Wasilla Road Warriors became the first Alaska team to advance to the title game, losing 6-0 to Layton, Utah.

This time, Alaska put up a half dozen runs and tied the game 6-6 in the sixth inning on Hunter Christian’s two-out RBI.

Since 2015, Alaska teams have earned 10 wins at the NWCART against Lower 48 teams compared to six wins from 1998 to 2014. Progress comes slowly and is usually grueling.

NWCART wins for Alaska coaches vs. Lower 48

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

Service (28-10) tied the game 1-1 in the second inning on Landon Martindale’s sac fly and took a seemingly comfortable 5-1 lead on Martindale’s two-out, two-run single in the third.

The four-run rally by the Cougars in the third inning was kickstarted by Kolby Jensen, the only Service player to hit safely in all five NWAC games. He finished 9-for-18.

Another player instrumental in Service’s tournament run was Martindale, an outfielder turned catcher who filled in behind the plate for the first time since Little League. Not only did he not allow a stolen base in the title game, but he also knocked in three runs.

Christian, the state tournament MVP, also stood tall. He pitched five innings in the title game, leaving the mound down 6-5 but then delivering the game-tying hit to even up the score.

In the end, Redmond did what it had done the entire tournament – come from behind. In the early game Tuesday, Redmond rallied from a 7-1 deficit to beat Coeur d’Alene 12-7 to reach the final.

In the title game, the Oregonians scored seven of their eight runs with two outs in support of a pitching staff that started with Tatum Aeschliman and finished with Aiden Gebhard.

Aeschliman went the first five innings, scattering five hits and five walks. He retired the final seven batters he faced. Gebhard, a hard-throwing lefty, struck out five batters in his two innings out of the bullpen.

With the Cougars trailing 6-5 with two outs in the sixth, Jake Rafferty fought off a high fastball to flare a single to right field. The big man struggled offensively in the tournament, finishing 2-for-14, but he came through when it mattered.

The 6-foot-4, 235-pound first baseman also scored the tying run after booking it from second on Christian’s single. As he rounded third, he had a look of determination like he would have charged through a wall to score. It was a big moment for the Alaskans as their dugout erupted in celebration.

The loss dropped Service to 5-6 at the NWCART under head coach Willie Paul, who has posted a state-best 187 Legion victories since 2014.

Service 014 001 0 – 6 7 2
Redmond 101 042 x – 8 11 3
Service – Christian, A.Hickman (6) and Martindale. Redmond – Aeschliman, Gebhard (6) and C. Horner, Aeschliman (6). W – Gebhard. L – A.Hickman. 2B – Gebhard (R), W. Horner (R), Pupo (R). 3B – None. HR – None.