State Tournament: E.R. extends historic win streak; Sturman throws shutout for Kenai; Service wins pool

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Posted by Van Williams, ALB Media Director | Jul 22, 2023

It took four years for Bill Lierman to turn the Eagle River Wolves into Alaska Legion royalty.

A program that has only been around since 2007, Eagle River was decent before Lierman became head coach in 2020. Since then, though, the Wolves have established themselves as the best of the best in Alaska with a state-high 92 wins, two state titles and a Northwest Regional victory.

They took aim at the record book Saturday as their 3-1 victory over the Palmer Pioneers made Eagle River the first program to win nine straight games at the state tournament.

The Wolves (23-8) built a two-run lead in the second inning and made it stick behind the pitching of Jack Molloy, Gage Rose and Charlie Wallace.

Eagle River’s postseason winning streak started in 2021 and has stretched all the way to this year, which included a 2-1 win over South on Day 1 of the tournament.

Most Consecutive Victories at Legion State Tournament
9 – Eagle River 2021-23
8 – Chugiak 1993-95
8 – Dimond 2000-02
8 – East 2004-05

Lierman owns eight Legion titles – three as a player for Chugiak, three as a coach for Chugiak and two as a coach for Eagle River.

In a full circle moment, Lierman was part of the Chugiak team in 1993 to 1995 that shared the previous record of eight with Dimond and East.

Eagle River relied on its trademark pitching and defense to hold off Palmer and get into the record book.

Molloy, Rose and Wallace combined for a 2-hitter with nine strikeouts. They held Palmer scoreless for the final six frames, thanks in part to a 4-3 double play and catcher Dallin Roberts throwing out a base runner trying to steal second base.

Molloy struck out the side in the second inning and fanned two in the third. Rose struck out two in the fifth as Eagle River pitchers stood tall against a good hitting Palmer team that never got on track.

Things looked good early for the Pioneers (13-13) when Bryant Marks reached on a hit by pitch and came around to score on a no-doubt double from Kaesen Buzby, who won his eight-pitch battle against Molloy. It was short lived as they never got another base runner to second against the southpaw starter.

Their luck didn’t improve against Gage, who benefited from a double play in the fourth inning. When Gage got wobbly in the sixth, Lierman summoned Wallace from the bullpen and the lanky right-hander sealed the deal with a five-out save.

71st Alaska Legion State Tournament
@ Mulcahy Stadium
Denali Pool

#1 Eagle River 2-0
#3 Kenai 2-0
#6 Palmer 0-2
#8 South 0-2
Alyeska Pool
#2 Service 3-0
#5 Dimond 2-1
#4 Chugiak 0-2
#7 West 0-2
Saturday Day 3 of 6
Kenai 7, South 0
Eagle River 3, Palmer 1
Service 9, Dimond 7
Off Day: Chugiak, West
Sunday Day 4 of 6
12:00pm West vs. Chugiak
3:00pm Kenai vs. Eagle River
6:00pm South vs. Palmer
Off Day: Service, Dimond

Eagle River’s offense has been erratic but effective. The Wolves have just 10 base hits in two tournament games, but they’ve made ‘em count.

Alex Mullen’s pop-up double in the first inning drove in Josh Thompson and tied the game and Liam Lierman’s RBI single put the Wolves ahead 2-1. They added another run in the second when Molloy singled, stole a bag to get into scoring position and then raced home from second base on a groundball fielder’s choice to shortstop.

Palmer’s Boman Marks pitched five innings, scattering five hits and four walks while striking out five. He won a 12-pitch battle against Gunner Mountcastle in the fifth inning, showing tenacity despite being tired. Boman’s brother and battery mate Bryant Marks threw out two runners on the base paths and scored his team’s lone run.

Palmer 100 000 0 - 1 2 2
Eagle River 210 000 x - 3 5 0
Palmer - Bo.Marks, Crowther (6) and Br.Marks. Eagle River - J.Molloy, Gage (4), Wallace and Roberts. W - Gage. L - Bo.Marks. SV - Wallace. 2B - Buzby (P), A.Mullen (ER). 3B - None. HR - None.

Kenai 7, South 0
Colby Sturman was sensational, carrying a no-hitter into the fifth inning and finishing with a 2-hitter as he became the first Twins’ pitcher in 33 years to throw a shutout at the state tournament.

The right-hander struck out 10 and got the final out on his 99th pitch to etch his name alongside some of the all-time greats in Kenai Twins history.

In 1990, Kevin O'Brien threw a 4-hit shutout at state and needed just 97 pitches to complete nine innings in a 6-0 win over East. In 1991, Dennis Machado threw a 2-hitter across six innings in a mercy rule 10-0 win over West, but that wasn't an official shutout.

This was. Sturman got the real thing as he was unhittable early and unflappable late. The rising junior retired 12 of the first 13 batters and didn’t allow a base hit until Chase Dixon smacked a clean single up the middle in the fifth.

Sturman racked up two strikeouts in the first, fifth and sixth innings. Of his 10 punchouts, four were looking.

He faced danger in only two innings, escaping a bases-loaded jam in the fifth and wiggling off the hook in a two-on, no-out situation in the seventh.

Cleanup hitter Charlie Chamberlain doubled in a pair of runs for Kenai (21-10) to make it 4-0 in the third inning, giving him a state-best 37 RBIs this season.

Andrew Pieh’s RBI single made it 5-0. Braden Smith’s RBI groundout pushed the lead to 6-0 and Hunter Williams knocked in the final run with an RBI single in the sixth.

Twins’ catcher Jayden Stuyvesant threw out a base runner trying to steal second base in the sixth and in the seventh started a 1-2-5 relay that picked off a runner at third.

This was Kenai's first win over South at the state tournament since 2008, snapping a five-game losing streak.

South 000 000 0 - 0 2 3
Kenai 014 101 x - 7 6 1
South - Peterson, Stanek-Alward (5) and Bonin. Kenai - Sturman and Stuyvesant. W - Sturman. L - Peterson. 2B - Chamberlain. 3B - None. HR - None.

Service 9, Dimond 7
The highest-scoring game of the tournament featured seven lead changes and 11 pitchers. When the dust settled, the Cougars used a three-run rally in the sixth inning to pull out the win that clinched them the No. 1 seed in the Alyeska Pool.

Hunter Christian went 2-for-4 with a double and four RBIs and Jake Rafferty was 2-for-4 with a double, RBI and two runs for Service (24-7).

After giving up six runs in the first three innings, the Cougars’ pitching staff settled down over the final four frames behind relievers Trey Maltby, Zachary Schaffer and Rilen Niclai. Maltby was the only pitcher on either team to throw two scoreless frames and Nicali nailed down the save after stranding the tying runs on base.

Christian banged out a two-run double in the first inning and a two-run single in the second, giving him six RBIs for the tournament; that total is tied for No. 1 with Dimond’s Carson Engstrom, who went 2-for-3 with two RBIs.

Engstrom’s two-out RBI single in the second inning gave the Lynx a 4-3 lead. His sac fly in the sixth inning pushed Dimond ahead 7-6.

The lead didn’t last. Coen Niclai reached base on a throwing error to open the sixth inning and scored on his brother Rilen’s RBI double. Service scored its next two runs thanks to a baserunning clinic, which allowed the Cougars to pull away.

At times, the game looked like a 'NextGen Showcase' as both coaches emptied their rosters and allowed younger players to play on the big stage.

Dimond (18-10) used two players who haven’t even reached high school yet in Class of 2027 standouts Jaden Estgo and Shane Flannery. Estgo started and batted leadoff, reaching twice and scoring both times. Flannery pitched a scoreless sixth, thanks to a 6-4-3 double play.

For Service, Maltby and Rilen Niclai are both Class of 2026 standouts. Maltby settled Service down with back-to-back scoreless innings and Nicali drove in the tying run, scored the go-ahead run and earned the save.

Dimond 222 001 0 - 7 5 3
Service 321 003 x - 9 8 0
Dimond - Estgo, Doherty (1), Ray (3), Flannery (5), Gaither (6), Mathews (6) and K.Cooke. Service - A.Hickman, Sculley (2), Trey Maltby (4), Schaffer (6), R.Niclai (7) and C.Niclai. W - Schaffer. L - Gaither. SV - R.Niclai. 2B - Montanga (D), K.Cooke (D), Rafferty (S), Christian (S), R.Niclai (S).