State Tournament: Christian carries Service, Wallace sparks Eagle River as both teams earn semifinal wins
Posted by Van Williams, ALB Media Director | Jul 24, 2023
They’ve been on a collision course all season and now top seeds Eagle River and Service will meet in the Alaska Legion state championship game after both teams prevailed in Monday’s semifinals at Mulcahy Stadium.
Top-seeded Eagle River extended its state record postseason winning streak to 11 games after dispatching Dimond 3-1, thanks to fifth-year standout Charlie Wallace, who earned the win in relief and scored a run in the sixth inning with an all-effort hustle play that exemplified why the Wolves are so hard to beat.
Second-seeded Service needed a Herculean effort from Hunter Christian, who threw a 4-hit shutout and knocked in the game’s lone run to highlight a 1-0 victory over Kenai.
Christian outdueled Malachi Olson as both pitchers went the distance to produce just the fifth 1-0 final in the 71-year history of the state tournament.
Christian became the first Service pitcher to throw a shutout at state in 25 years. As if that wasn’t enough, he also knocked in Chase Mascelli in the first inning for the winning run.
71st Alaska Legion State Tournament
@ Mulcahy Stadium
Service 1, Kenai 0
Eagle River 3, Dimond 1
5:30pm Title Game
#2 Service (25-7) vs. #1 Eagle River (25-8)
Christian has been crushing at state. He’s batting .428 on 6-for-14 hitting with a tournament-best seven RBIs as he makes a case for the Big Stick Award. Or Top Pitcher as he improved to 2-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 11 innings.
He carried Service back to the championship game for the fourth time since 2016 under head coach Willie Paul.
Wallace, a 2022 Eagel River grad who came back for his fifth year of Legion, showcased poise and precision on the mound. He wiggled off the hook with a runner on third and no outs in the fifth. He walked away from a bases-loaded jam unscathed in the sixth. And he won a 10-pitch battle against Dimond's Kenton Cooke in the seventh.
But maybe his best play of the night came when Wallace hustled from second base to score on a wild pitch, which served as a dagger as Eagle River buried another opponent by execution.
Heads up baserunning, pitching, defense and timely hitting – the Wolves needed it all to hold off a hard-charging Dimond team back in the final four for the first time since 2018.
Service 1, Kenai 0
Christian needed 90 pitches to record his team’s 10th shutout of the season – and the first for a Service pitcher in the postseason since Dan Chevallard a quarter of a century ago.
It was deja vu for Service assistant coach Tim Rumfelt, who coached the Cougars in 1997 when Chevallard tossed a four-hitter to highlight a 10-0 win in nine innings over Kenai. Service won the title that year.
Rumfelt for years has preached about not letting the other team's star player beat you and that's what Christian did, winning all three battles with Kenai slugger Charlie Chamberlain, the state's RBI leader.
To be fair, Christian was tough on all the Kenai batters. He struck out two Twins in each of the first three innings, with half of them looking.
In both the second and third innings Kenai got the leadoff runner on base and both times used a sac bunt to move him into scoring position. Both times Christian struck out the next two batters to avert trouble.
He pitched a 1-2-3 fourth and then gave up a hustle pop-up double to Derrick Jones. Braden Smith smashed a line drive, but Mascelli made a leaping catch to save a run.
The 5-foot-9 Service shortstop stretched every bit of his body to make the grab. (Like father, like son; his dad Danny was a Gold Glove infielder for Bartlett in the 1990s).
Christian pitched another 1-2-3 inning in the sixth and in the seventh worked around a single by Jace Crall before ending the game on a pop up behind the plate.
Kenai’s Malachi Olson was the hard luck loser – if you could even call him that. He pitched like a winner and gave his team every chance to get back to the state title game for the first time since 2016.
Olson pitched all six innings, scattering six hits and three walks while striking out three. He retired eight in a row in one stretch.
He also took care of business against arguably the offensive player of the year in Jake Rafferty, who came into the game hitting .522 with a state-best six home runs. Olson retired the lethal leadoff hitter all three times on just four pitches.
In the fourth inning, Olson wiggled out of a second-and-third, one-out jam. In the fifth, the Twins turned a 6-4-3 double play. And in the sixth, they turned a 9-2 double play after right fielder Atticus Gibson caught a fly ball and threw out the base runner at the plate by a country mile.
Kenai’s performance would have been good enough to win on nine out of 10 days. But Christian was a one-man wrecking crew.
It was redemption day for Christian, who a year ago suffered the loss in the eighth inning of a 4-3 walk-off defeat to Eagle River in the 2022 state title game.
Kenai 000 000 0 – 0 4 0
Service 100 000 x – 1 6 1
Kenai – Olson and Stuyesant. Service – Christian and C.Niclai. W – Christian. L – Olson. 2B – Jones. 3B – None. HR – None.
Eagle River 3, Dimond 1
Starting pitcher Gunner Mountcastle and Wallace held Dimond to three hits while combining for 11 strikeouts and getting a pair of double plays behind them.
Mountcastle struck out six of the first seven batters he faced and finished with nine punchouts in 4.1 innings. He worked around runners in scoring position in each of the second and third innings but couldn’t escape unscathed in the fourth.
Carson Engstrom drew a walk, stole second and scored on Ryan Swanstrom’s two-out single – the only hit Mountcastle surrendered – to tie the game 1-1.
Mountcastle left in the fifth and was replaced by Wallace, who came on with one out and a runner on second. He threw a wild pitch on his first delivery, increasing the chances of Dimond taking its first lead.
But it didn’t happen.
Wallace induced a groundball to first baseman Liam Lierman, who touched the bag and fired a missile to catcher Dallin Roberts to chop down the runner for an inning-ending double play.
Lierman scored the go-ahead run in the sixth after drawing a leadoff walk, moving to second on Roberts’ sac bunt, stealing third and coming home on Jack Molloy’s sac fly for a 2-1 lead.
With two outs, Wallace singled, went to second on a wild pitch and came around to score on a third-strike wild pitch. Wallace never stopped running as the catcher threw down to first base to complete the out; but the throw was late, and nobody covered home, which allowed Wallace to score without a throw.
It was a heartbreaking ending for a Dimond team that had played flawless baseball for five-plus innings. Eli Lipinski pitched beautifully, working a trio of 1-2-3 innings and stranding four runners in scoring position.
In the third, the Lynx turned a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play. Engstrom also saved a run in the first by leaping to his left to catch an erratic pitch with a runner on third.
Lipinski finished with seven strikeouts in 5.2 innings. He ended the fourth and fifth innings with punchouts, both looking.
In the end, though, Eagle River’s constant pressure finally broke Dimond in the sixth. The Wolves have made a habit of winning close games in big moments.
Last year, Eagle River beat Service with a 4-3 walk-off winner in the eighth inning. When the teams met on the final day of the regular season two weeks ago, Eagle River rallied for a 12-11 walk-off win in eight innings to clinch the No. 1 seed for state.
Dimond 000 100 0 - 1 3 0
Eagle River 001 002 x - 3 5 1
Dimond - Lipinski, Doherty (6), Ray (6) and Engstrom. Eagle River - Mountcastle, Wallace (5) and J.Mullen, Roberts (6). W - Wallace. L - Lipinski. 2B - A.Mullen (ER). 3B - None. HR - None.