Service smokes Chugiak 14-0 in most lopsided state semifinal since '14; Partch pitches South past Colony 5-1

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Posted by Van Williams, ALB Media Director | Jun 2, 2023

It was a day to remember for the Niclai brothers in Sitka.

Earlier on Friday junior catcher Coen Niclai was named Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year. That night he drove in his 30th RBI of the season and freshman third baseman Rilen Niclai had three hits, two doubles and two RBIs as Service smoked Chugiak 14-0 at the ASAA Division I state tournament.

It was the most lopsided state semifinal since 2014, with the Cougars getting five doubles, eight hit batsmen and five shutout innings by Owen Hickman.

But the Niclai bros took center stage.

Rilen was moved to the leadoff position at the state tournament and has responded by reaching base six times and driving in three runs in two games. He led off Friday’s game with a double and added a two-run double in his second at-bat to make it 4-0.

Coen reached base four times and drove in a run to push the lead to 5-0 in the second inning. The three-hole hitter has a .667 on-base percentage in nine plate appearances at the state tournament.

A surefire college player, Coen has already received interest from NCAA Division I schools. The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder is hitting .326 with two home runs and a school-record 30 RBIs in 19 games.

Coen is the second Service player to win Gatorade POY honors, the first since Zach Ferntheil in 2013.

For as good as Coen is as a hitter, his biggest impact might be behind the plate. The catcher has the best arm in the state and can single-handedly shut down an opponent’s running game.

Coen has thrown out 12 base runners this season, including five at the CIC Tournament. He has given up only one stolen base in 15 innings at the state tournament.

Service’s victory avenged a 6-3 loss to Chugiak in the regular season and advanced to the team to the state championship game for the first time since 2013.

The Cougars a decade ago played South in the final, and they will again meet the Wolverines in a state title game Saturday at Moller Park in Sitka.

Service is the only team at the state tournament that doesn’t have a senior on its roster. Not only that, but coach Willie Paul played six freshmen in Friday’s state semifinal to build their postseason chops.

Three of them started, with Rilen Niclai and Nick Armstrong combining for four of the team’s five doubles, and right fielder Braun Precosky making a nice running catch to end the second inning.

Freshman Connor Monahan pitched the final two innings and freshman Takumi Kosaka drew walks in each of his plate appearances in the seventh inning when the Cougars batted around.

Almost lost in the offensive onslaught was the effective pitching of Hickman, who threw five shutout innings to lower his season ERA to 1.11 in 25.1 innings.

The junior right-hander picked off a runner to work around a leadoff triple in the first inning and tossed two 1-2-3 frames in the third and fifth innings to run his record to 6-1.

South 5, Colony 1

Starting pitcher Gavin Partch went the distance and the Wolverines manufactured five runs off six hits and played errorless defense to advance to the state tournament title game for the third straight year.

Partch bounced back after giving up a run in the first with six scoreless frames. It wasn’t a walk at the ballpark as the senior right-hander left 10 runners stranded on base.

Partch doesn’t overpower batters so much as he gets them to swing at his pitches, inducing groundballs and pop ups.

With a stout defense behind him, he has the confidence to attack hitters and trusts his defense to make plays behind them. They usually do. The Wolverines own a 1.000 fielding percentage in two games at the state tournament.

Meanwhile, South feasts on opponent’s mistakes.

In the third inning, Landon Drumm’s two-out walk turned into a run. In the fourth, a dropped ball by the left fielder led to another run.

Two-hole hitter Chase Mascelli knocked in two runs with a two-out RBI single in the third and a sac fly in the fourth.

In the sixth, nine-hole hitter Luke Beard ripped a two-out, two-run double down the left-field line as the Wolverines pushed their lead to 5-1.

Meanwhile, Partch was in command. Of the 11 runners to reach base, only three advanced as far as third and only one scored. Three times he had faced a two-on, one-out jam and twice he came away unscathed.

His counterpart, Colony starter, Boman Marks sat down eight of the first nine batters he faced and finished with 6.2 innings, missing a CG by one out. Left fielder Zephon Rhowmine made a nice diving catch along the foul line and catcher Kaesen Buzby threw out a baserunner.

This was the third consecutive year South bounced Colony from the winner’s bracket – twice in the semifinals and again in the 2021 title game.

The Knights came out swinging as Marks singled to lead off the game, advanced on Brayden Parrent’s single and scored on Dylen Crowther’s sac fly. In the second, Nate Wilson singled to lead off and two batters later Cauy Trangmoe singled.

But Partch found his groove and retired 10 of the next 12 batters to set the tone and help send the Wolverines back to the state title game.

Eagle River 2, Juneau 1

Pinch-hitter Ryan Mullen drew a bases loaded walk on a full count with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning to help the Wolves hold off the Crimson Bears in extra innings in a consolation game.

Josh Thompson reached on an error to lead off the ninth, stole second was a moved to third on Dallin Roberts’ sac bunt. Juneau coach Chad Bentz then called for back-to-back intentional walks to load the bases. That brought up Mullen, who got the job done with the game-winning RBI.

Thompson scored the winning run, knocked in the first run and reached base three times.

Jack Molloy got the win with 4.2 innings of fabulous relief. He entered the game in the fifth with runners on the corners and got out of the jam with a pop up and groundout.

The smooth southpaw racked up nine strikeouts, including five of the final five batters he faced.

Juneau starter Phillip Crupi pitched beautifully over eight excellent innings in a no decision. He gave up four hits and one run while striking out eight, half of them looking.

Crupi picked off a runner in the first and snagged a comebacker to rob Roberts of a base hit with the bases loaded to end the eighth. He also took a line drive off the knee in the seventh and stayed in the game – and got the out after the ball ricocheted off his leg right to the first baseman.

Juneau’s Tyler Frisby walked twice, stole a base and scored his team’s lone run. He has walked in five of six plate appearances in the tournament.

Eagle River swept the season series against Juneau, winning 9-4 in the first meeting in May.

Sitka 7, West Valley 1

Grady Smith pitched a 2-hit complete game while Sam Johnson, Bridger Bird and Tanner Stinson each drove in a pair of runs as the host team staved off elimination by beating the Wolfpack in a consolation game.

Smith gave up hits to each of the first two batters of the game and fell behind 1-0 before settling down wonderfully. The second run he gave up was unearned and he worked around a pair of walks in the seventh inning.

He had two 1-2-3 innings and two 1-2-3-4 frames.

Meanwhile, the offense scored in five of six innings. Sam Johnson’s two-out, two-run double scored Emmit Johnson and Trey Johnson in the second inning to put the Wolves ahead 2-1.

In the fourth inning, Bird reached on an error advanced on Chance Coleman’s single and scored the go-ahead run on Caleb Calhoun’s RBI groundout to second base.

Bird’s two-run single made it 5-2 in the fifth and Stinson’s two-run double made it 7-2 in the sixth.

Bird scored two runs, stole a base and threw out a runner from behind the plate. Second baseman Coleman robbed Liam Irish of a base hit with a nice diving stab to end the fifth.

West Valley’s Gannon Young led off the game with a single, went to second on a passed ball and scored on Jackson Taylor’s RBI single. Taylor walked, stole second and scored to tie the game 2-2 in the third inning.