State Tournament: Gruszynski saves Chugiak; Service wins in extras while South and Colony prevail on Day 1

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Posted by Van Williams, ALB Media Director | Jun 1, 2023

Chugiak senior Gabe Gruszynski had a lot on his mind when he came to the plate in the sixth inning. It was Day 1 of the state tournament, and his team was down 3-0. Even worse, the Mustangs had no hits.

West Valley pitcher Olav Moeller was locked in and stood on the mound with his glove held to his face, intently focused on the task at hand when Gruszynski stepped to the plate with two runners on base.

Did he know Moeller had a no-hitter going?

“I wasn’t really sure because the scoreboard was kind of messed up, so I wasn’t sure if we were or not but I kind of thought we were,” Gruszynski said.

They were.

Two pitches later, they weren’t.

Gruszynski crushed a three-run home run to tie the game and then Chugiak scored the winning run in the seventh inning to pull out a 4-3 victory over the Wolfpack in Thursday’s first-round game of the ASAA Division I state tournament in Sitka.

The right-handed Gruszynski jumped on a high fastball on the outside the plate, driving it over the 14-foot right-field fence that reads ‘293’ at Moller Park.

“My coach told me not to think about going oppo because that’s what I usually do but I was kind of changing my swing, so I was just kind of thinking about my swing, and I swung and it was all good off the bat and it just went out,” he said.

Gruszynski’s bomb snapped Moeller’s hitless streak of 5.2 innings as he lost his no-hit bid with two outs in the sixth inning.

With one swing, his no-hitter, his shutout bid and West Valley’s 3-0 lead were all gone.

Gruszynski had flipped the game on its head. Moments later, he was on the seat of his pants after a big fly celly went awry.

Guys were chest bumping and jumping around in celebration of the big moment, one of the biggest in school history. The Mustangs mobbed Gruszynski when he got back to the dugout.

“Coach told us before the game that he wanted us to act like we’ve done it before,” he said before admitting how hard that was after the homer.

“It was fun. All my guys were giving me hugs and stuff. It was great.”

With two outs, Tyle Cage reached base after getting hit by a pitch and Hunter Rau drew a full-count walk. That brought the tying run to the plate in Gruszynski.

Before that mistake pitch, Moeller had kept Chugiak off balance with eight pop ups and three strikeouts.

“I thought he was a good pitcher,” he said. “We were out in front of everything. We were hitting off a machine yesterday (throwing) pretty hard, so I think it was a matter of slowing down our swings. We were having a hard time with that.”

Moeller pitched a 1-2-3 first inning, picked off a runner in the second and wiggled out of two-on, one-out jam in the third. He had retired 10 of 11 batters before giving up that bomb.

In the seventh inning, Gruszynski’s brother Andrew was hit by a pitch to lead off, went to second on Jayden Steckel’s sac bunt and advanced to third on an error. He scored the winning run on Owen Dockstater’s safety squeeze bunt. The No. 9 hitter had the game-winning RBI.

Preston Rau – the top pitcher in the Cook Inlet Conference – did not start but came into the game with two outs in the third inning. He went three innings to earn the win and move to 4-0 on the season before giving way to Gruszynski, who recorded the save after getting the final out.

“I thought Preston did great. He’s always been a really good pitcher for us,” Gruszynski said. “Sometimes he goes a little fast, but I loved his pace today and thought he did a great job up on the mound.”

Rau was good, but Gruszynski was better as his Herculean effort carried the Mustangs on a day when West Valley gave them everything they could handle.

The Wolfpack took a 2-0 lead on Bryson Roon’s two-run single in the third and made it 3-0 on Gannon Young’s RBI single.

The Mustangs came back on a blast and a bunt, winning the game with just one hit.

“We got lucky,” Gruszynski said.

In the state playoffs, though, style points don’t matter. It’s all about two things: survive and advance.

“We gotta lock in and play better tomorrow,” Gruszynski said.

Chugiak improved to 3-0 all-time against West Valley, with all three wins coming at the state tournament. They also faced off in 2004 and 2015, with the Mustangs winning those games by a combined 28-6 score.

South 4, Eagle River 3

Kaden Bevegni showcased his senior experience as he came up clutch with a pair of two-out RBI hits in addition to pitching three innings of relief to earn the win as the two-time defending state champion Wolverines extended to seven their winning streak at the state tournament.

Bevegni tripled in Chase Mascelli with the tying run in the fifth inning and scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch as South beat the Wolves for the third time this season, improving to 7-1 in one-run games.

Blake Peterson walked and scored in the second inning and recorded the final five outs on the mound to earn the save.

South came back from deficits of 1-0 and 3-2 in handing CIC MVP Liam Lierman his second defeat. The last time these teams met Lierman no-hit South and lost 1-0. This time he allowed just two hits – both to Bevegni.

Bevegni is a three-year starter and one of the few key holdovers from South’s former super teams went a combined 43-0 over the 2021 and 2022 seasons.

The third baseman lined a single past a diving second baseman to give South a 2-1 lead in the third inning, ending Lierman’s 8.2-inning hitless streak against the Wolverines.

Lierman racked up eight strikeouts in 4.2 innings as he eclipsed the 50-K benchmark on the season.

Landon Hudson’s sac fly scored Gunner Mountcastle in the fifth inning to give the Wolves a 3-2 advantage. The lead didn’t last.

With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Chase Mascelli drew a walk and scored the tying run after Bevegni blasted a triple to the 375-foot sign in center field. Bevegni then scored on a wild pitch to put South ahead for good.

Peterson left two runners stranded in scoring position to end the sixth and then struck out two batters in the seventh to seal the deal.

Eagle River hasn’t beaten South since 2014. The Wolves lost all three matchups this year in heartbreaking fashion, dropping decisions of 3-2, 1-0 and 4-3.

Colony 9, Juneau 1

Brayden Parrent punished the Crimson Bears with a three-run home run at the plate and six strong innings on the bump as the Knights rode off triumphantly to reach the state tournament semifinals for the third straight year.

The right-handed Parrent pounded an opposite field homer in the second inning to put Colony ahead 6-0. His bomb scored Jaren Venie and Boman Marks.

That was all the offense Parrent needed as he carved up Juneau batters, allowing five singles and striking out 10 across six innings. He ended the second, third and fifth innings with punchouts.

Parrent’s precise pitching helped him in big spots as Juneau left 10 runners on base in his six frames.

He also got an assist from his catcher on a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play to end the fourth inning. His defense played clean behind him as Colony sparkled on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, the Knights banged out 10 hits and got extra-base knocks from Parrent (HR), Marks (2B) and Nate Wilson (2B). Wilson’s two-out, two-run single in the first inning made it 3-0.

Cauy Trangmoe and Venie had back-to-back RBIs in the fifth as the lead swelled to 8-1. Kaesen Buzby’s RBI single in the sixth made it 9-1.

Colony beat Juneau 8-1 in last year’s state tournament fourth-place game.

Juneau’s Landon Simonson had an RBI single to drive in his team’s lone run, scoring Kaleb Campbell. Tyler Frisby walked three times and catcher Lamar Cabrigas-Blatnick threw out a runner at third base to end the sixth inning.

Service 8, Sitka 7

The Cougars clawed back from a 4-0 deficit in the seventh and scored all eight runs over the final two innings as they won in extras to advance to the state semifinals for the first time in a decade.

It was a roller coaster seventh inning that saw Service rally for seven runs, digging out of a four-run hole to take a 7-4 lead, only to see Sitka score three runs in the bottom of the seventh, with Brandon Marx’s two-out, two-run double tying it 7-7.

The Cougars went ahead again in the top of the eighth, thanks to the hustle of Sebastian Fournier. Fournier reached first base on a strikeout/passed ball, went to second on Andrew Hickman’s sac bunt and third on a groundout. After Rilen Niclai was hit by a pitch to put runners at the corners, Service called a double steal and executed it to perfection, capped by Fournier just beating the throw home from the shortstop on a bang-bang play at the plate.

Niclai stood tall out of the bullpen and pitched the final two innings, ending the seventh with a strikeout and the tying run on third base. Then he recorded a 1-2-3, 7-pitch eighth inning to secure Service’s school-record 15th win of the season.

The Cougars were shut down by Sitka starter Ben Turner, who threw six shutout innings and retired 11 straight at one point.

Sitka took a 2-0 lead on Tanner Stinson’s RBI single in the fifth inning. The next inning the lead swelled to 4-0 on RBIs by Keaton Blankenship and Stinson. Blankenship, who came into the game in the first to replace injured Brett Ross, drew a bases loaded walk on nine pitches. Stinson had his second RBI single two batters later.

In the inning, Service reliever Hunter Christian recorded four strikeouts after one reached on a wild pitch. It seemed like nothing could go right for the Cougars, who were looking at getting shut out for the second of back-to-back games after falling 5-0 to Eagle River in the third-place game of the CIC Tournament.

Owen Hickman’s leadoff single in the seventh set the tone. Service collected five hits in the frame and got back-to-back two-out RBI singles from its big guns in Coen Niclai and Jake Rafferty.

Trailing 7-4 and down to its last three outs on its home field, Sitka dug deep and made something happen. Bridger Bird singled, Turner walked, Chance Colman singled, Blankenship walked and Marx doubled to tie the game and force extra innings.

But this was Service’s night as the Cougars put together their second significant comeback win this season. They rallied from a 6-1 deficit to beat South earlier this year. Tonight they came back from four down to beat Sitka for the first time in two all-time meetings, both coming in one-run games at the state tournament.