From regional wins to records, 2022 was a hit for Alaska

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Posted by Van Williams, ALB Media Director | Dec 7, 2022

If it wasn’t the Eagle River and Service Legion teams racking up regional victories, it was Paul Steffensen breaking the state’s all-time college hits record.

Or Brody Jesse getting drafted by the Reds.

Or Jonny Homza coming back from a broken neck for the Padres.

Or Bartlett making its first appearance at the Legion State Tournament since 2013 and winning two games for the first time since 2007.

Add it up and it was a historic year for Alaska baseball players.

Let’s start with the Legion regional tournaments, which saw Eagle River beat Fort Collins (CO) 3-2 at the Northwest Regional in Wyoming and Service defeat Vernal (UT) 7-0 at the Northwest Class A Regional Tournament in Utah.

Never before since the state starting sending teams to both tournaments in 1998 had two different Legion teams from Alaska won a game at two different regionals.

Eagle River’s win was capped by Dalton Smith’s walk-off single – Alaska’s first walk-off win at the Northwest Regional since 1998 when Chugiak beat Missoula (MT) 4-3.

1986 – Dimond W 2-1 Idaho Falls (ID)
1996 – Chugiak W 17-7 Casper (WY)
1997 – Service W 7-3 Boise (ID)
1998 – Chugiak W 4-3 Missoula (MT)
2001 – Service W 8-3 Sheridan (WY)
2003 – East W 9-6 Whitefish (MT)
2009 – South W 5-4 Cheyenne (WY)
2018 – Juneau W 13-9 Missoula (MT)
2022 – Eagle River W 3-2 Fort Collins (CO)
*If you have info on wins before 1986, please contact me

In 1998, the Mustangs scored the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning after Eric Rogers scored from second base on Mike Warren’s fielder’s choice. Future MLB draft pick Joey Clark threw a 9-inning complete game and picked up the win despite eight walks.

At this year’s NWCART, Service starter Jake Rafferty and relievers Michael Sculley and Rilan Nicali spun the first shutout by an Alaska team at a regional tournament since Juneau in 2014 when Nathan Klein went all seven innings in the same tournament.

In April, Steffensen became Alaska’s college hits leader when the Kenai slugger smacked his 231st hit in a game for Saint Cloud State University.

Steffensen passed Scooter Bynum of Fairbanks for the top spot. Bynum had held the title since 2018.

251 – Paul Steffensen, St. Cloud State/Tennessee Tech/Mesa 2018-2022
230 – Scooter Bynum, Northern Illinois/Arizona Western 2015-2018
228 – Rob Conway, Iowa State/Mendocino 1998-2001
212 – Pat Floyd, Pacific/Southwestern 1987-1991
202 – Lance Ibesate, Jamestown/ Shasta 2013-2016

In May, Anchorage’s Parker Johnson was named Second Team All-GNAC – the first player from Alaska to earn all-conference honors in a league that dates back two decades.

Johnson tied for the league lead with eight wins and one shutout, ranked third with two complete games and fifth with a 3.86 ERA.

He threw a 9-inning complete game, scattering seven hits and striking out three in a 7-2 win over Montana State Billings that propelled the Wolves into the GNAC Tournament title game.

In June, Curtis Hebert pitched a 4-hit shutout and the South High Wolverines capped a 26-0 season with a 6-0 victory over Sitka in the championship game of the ASAA Division I state tournament at Mulcahy Stadium.

With the win, South pushed its state-record winning streak to 44 games and secured the Cook Inlet Conference team’s second straight championship and fifth in school history.

Hebert was also named Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year and signed with the University of Portland.

In July, Jessee was selected by the Cincinnati Reds with the 303rd overall pick, making him the eighth-highest Alaskan among the 38 players from the state to be taken in the MLB Draft.

The 21-year-old rocket right-hander out of Gonzaga University made 18 appearances on a 37-19 team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament. The 6-foot-4 reliever furnished a 4.58 ERA in 35.1 innings with 48 strikeouts to 19 walks.

He racked up a career-high 10 strikeouts in four frames against Pepperdine to become the first Alaskan to record double-digit Ks against a NCAA Division I opponent since Sitka’s Matt Way of Washington State had 12 against Washington in 2009.

2000 – Brian Montalbo P Anchorage 130/4 Atlanta Braves
2017 – Jonny Homza C / 3B Anchorage 138/5 San Diego Padres
1994 – Trajan Langdon 3B Anchorage 150/6 San Diego Padres
2009 – Matt Way P Sitka 167/5 Philadelphia Phillies
2012 – Dylan Baker P Juneau 173/5 Cleveland Indians
2001 – Chad Bentz P Juneau 202/7 Montreal Expos
2011 – Kellen Moen P Juneau 216/7 Kansas City Royals
2022 – Brody Jessee P Anchorage 303/10 Cincinnati Reds
1998 – Dustin Krug P Kodiak 316/11 Chicago Cubs
1990 – Marshall Boze P Soldotna 331/12 Milwaukee Brewers

In August, ten months after breaking his neck in a mountain bike crash, Homza made a valiant return to the baseball field.

He smoked a ground-run double in his first at-bat in his season debut as the fifth-year professional in the San Diego Padres organization began a rehab assignment in the rookie-level Arizona Complex League.

Homza started at designated hitter and batted cleanup, going 1-for-1 and reaching base in each of his two plate appearances.

Homza crashed on his bike last October on a Hillside trail in Anchorage when he flipped over the handle bars, landed on his head and cracked his neck. Even though he was wearing a helmet and walked away from the crash, he learned the next day that he had suffered a cervical fracture and needed surgery.

The 23-year-old was back on the field a few months later and a few months after that he played in his first game since Sept. 19, 2021.