NWCART: Service rallies in 7th inning to beat Belgrade (MT) 2-1, stays unbeaten in winner's bracket

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Posted by Van Williams, ALB Media Director | Aug 5, 2023

Playing under the lights in Big Sky country and getting another lights-out performance from ace Jake Rafferty, the Service Cougars on Saturday night rallied in the seventh inning to beat Belgrade (MT) 2-1 at the Northwest Class A Regional Tournament.

The Alaskans improved to 2-0 in the double-elimination tournament in Havre, Montana, where they are one win away from clinching a spot in the title game.

Rafferty reached 75 strikeouts on the season after recording seven punchouts in 6.2 innings. He carried a shutout into the fifth inning and gave up three hits, two walks and one run.

The only thing that slowed down the 6-foot-4 rocket right-hander was the pitch count as he came out after 108, striking out the final batter he faced.

Kolby Jensen closed it out for the save, working around a two-out double to end it on a groundball to third baseman Hunter Christian.

Jensen also kickstarted Service’s go-ahead rally in the top of the seventh with a leadoff single. He also scored the game-winning run on Chase Mascelli’s RBI for the Cougars (27-8).

NWCART @ Havre, Montana

Loser’s Bracket
Coeur d’Alene (ID) 6, Idaho Falls (ID) 0
Redmond (OR) 12, Ridgeline (UT) 2
Winner’s Bracket
Service (AK) 2, Belgrade (MT) 1
Powell (WY) 4, Havre (MT) 3
Loser’s Bracket
Redmond (OR) vs. Belgrade (MT)
Coeur d’Alene (ID) vs. Havre (MT)
Winner’s Bracket
Service (AK) vs. Powell (WY) 5pm ADT

Jensen atoned for a tough fielding night at first base in the fifth and sixth innings by playing hero in the seventh. He let a chopper down the line play him in the fifth that led to Belgrade’s only run and made a fielding error in the sixth.

The best thing about baseball is there’s always a second chance around the corner. The next day, the next play.

Jensen immediately made it right, leading off the seventh with an infield single after hustling out of the box. Then he avoided being doubled up between first and second base on a bunt that was almost caught but wasn’t. Then he scampered home from third base on Mascelli’s groundball to shortstop for the winning run.

The Montana shortstop was going to come home with the throw, but he couldn’t make the play cleanly. Credit Jensen’s hustle for putting pressure on the fielder and causing him to rush.

Jensen also gets a tip of the cap for securing Rafferty’s win after getting the final out with the tying run in scoring position.

With the victory, Service became the sixth Alaska team in 25 years to win at least two games at the NWCART. In 2019, Wasilla won three games and advanced to the title game – the first time a team from Alaska played for a regional championship at the Legion level.

NWCART victories for Alaska coaches vs. Outside teams
4 – Willie Paul, Service
4 – Ken Ottinger, Wasilla
2 – Andy Macauley, Juneau
2 – Vic Aure, Fairbanks
2 – Russ Baker, South
1 – Chris Williams, South

Saturday’s game started four hours later than scheduled as rain pushed back the day’s schedule on the grass field with a dirt mound.

By the time the first pitch was thrown at 8:03 p.m. local time, it was dusk. By the second inning the lights were on, a rarity for a team from the Land of the Midnight Sun.

The Cougars sparkled under the lights.

Rafferty struck out five of the first 10 batters he faced. In the third, Mascelli made a full extension diving catch in left field from his shortstop position. In the fifth, catcher Landon Martindale threw out a runner trying to steal second base.

Service went ahead 1-0 in the third after Christian doubled and went to third after tagging on a flyout, barely beating the throw. He scored on Sebastian Fournier’s RBI single.

Belgrade pulled even in the fifth after Diego Casas doubled and scored on Keenan Kraft’s RBI base hit, a high chopper that bounced right on the line. Jensen, the starting right fielder who plays first when Rafferty pitches, didn’t attack the ball.

The play wasn’t easy, but nothing is in the postseason.

It was only the second run Service has allowed in its last 29 innings; the other run came on a passed ball in the state title game in a 1-0 loss.

Rafferty improved to 6-2 in nine starts this season, lowering his ERA to 1.15 and giving him 75 strikeouts in 48.1 innings pitched.

Mascelli not only drove in the winning run, dropped down a sac bunt and drew a walk, the all-star made six assists on defense. He robbed two hits, the final one coming on a leaping grab to end the sixth.

The Cougars beat Montana state tournament MVP Collin Delph, who struck out eight in 6.2 innings and took a hard-luck loss with only one of his two runs being earned.

The Bandits (33-11) turned two double plays and center fielder Aidan Kulbeck robbed Christian of extra bases with a nice running grab in the sixth, provoking Christian to tip his helmet in a sign of respect and sportsmanship.

Service 000 100 1 – 2 5 2
Belgrade 000 010 0 – 1 4 2
Service – Rafferty, Jensen (7) and Martindale. Belgrade – Delph, Arrants (7) and Casas. W – Rafferty. L – Delph. SV – Jensen. 2B – Christian (S), Casas 2 (B). 3B – None. HR – None.