State Tournament: Kenai, Service win to advance
Posted by Van Williams, ALB Media Director | Jul 24, 2022
As the new kid in town, Hunter Williams puts a lot of pressure on himself to perform well with the Kenai Post 20 Twins.
Nothing brings players together like success and Williams and the Twins had plenty to celebrate in Sunday’s 11-1 win over Bartlett Post 29 at Mulcahy Stadium.
The Class of 2023 right-hander threw a complete-game gem, recording 21 outs on 85 pitches to secure Kenai a spot in the semifinals of the Alaska Legion State Tournament.
Williams fired a 4-hitter with six strikeouts and faced one over the minimum across the final five innings in a brilliant performance when his team needed it the most.
“Yesterday after we won, I had a feeling I would pitch this game today and when I found out that I was I wanted to make sure I was on point,” Williams said. “I kind of stayed to myself at the beginning of the game. I wanted to be active but I also wanted to throw hard. I did whatever I could to make sure that happened.”
Williams also reached base four times and finished 2-for-3 with an RBI and three runs scored as part of Kenai’s 13-hit attack.
A day after scoring four runs in the seventh inning in a wild 6-4 come-from-behind victory over No. 2 Chugiak Post 33, the Twins scored three runs in the first inning to draw first blood against the No. 6 Bears.
Kenai came in to the tournament seeded No. 7, but Williams believes the Twins are better than that.
“The games that we lost to bump us down were not by much,” he said.
Kenai won the Alyeska Pool in a three-way tie with South (2-1) and Bartlett (2-1). Kenai and South both advanced to the semifinals based on a tiebreaker of fewest runs in games between the three teams tied.
Williams, who is from Kodiak, joined the Kenai squad because his hometown Post 17 team hasn’t fielded a team in three seasons.
“A couple years ago I used to play against the Twins, and losing to them pretty bad, so joining them feels really nice,” Williams said. “It feels really nice to be part a team that is known for being good. A team people throw their best pitchers against them.”
That was the case against Bartlett, who threw Carl Colavecchio. The southpaw hadn’t pitched for most of the season as his coaches have eased him back, setting him up for this big start. It didn’t work out.
Six of the first 10 Kenai batters reached on walks and three of them scored on Andrew Pieh’s two-out, three-run double in the first inning that got the party started.
Williams’ two-out run-scoring single in the fourth inning made it 4-0.
Meanwhile, Kenai was in cruise control. Everything went right for the Twins, who picked off a runner (Williams) and threw out another trying to steal (Jacob Belger).
In the second, shortstop Gabe Smith made an error and on the next play made a spectacular 6-3 double play after diving for a liner and doubling up the runner at first.
“I definitely knew that I have a strong defense, but some surprised me, like that dive by my shortstop,” Williams said. “That was pretty cool. That saved a run, too.”
In the fifth, Kenai right fielder Simon Grenier made an error on a flyball but then threw out the batter pushing his luck trying to get to second base.
“It was just all the way around a great performance by my team. I feel so confident with them,” Williams said. “I think the biggest thing about this game was confidence.”
In the nightcap, Service Post 28 hung on for an 8-7 victory over Palmer Post 15 that clinched the Cougars the No. 2 seed in the Denali Pool with a 2-1 record. Eagle River won the pool with a 3-0 record.
It was a win-and-they’re-in scenario for the Cougars, who rallied from a 3-0 deficit early and then hung on for dear life as the Pioneers played three runs in the seventh and ended the game with the tying run on second base.
Service closer Hunter Christian pitched two innings to earn the save in relief of starter Sean Giffen, who earned the win with five innings.
Giffen was erratic early, and excellent late.
Nine of the first 14 batters he faced reached base as he gave up four runs in the first two innings before flipping the switch and racking up scoreless frames in the third, fourth and fifth innings.
“After the rough start it was my offense that really helped me bounce back,” Giffen said. “We were up by two in the second, so I just reset and put the first innings behind me. My teammates really picked me up.”
Service catcher Coen Niclai showcased his terrific two-way talent, throwing out two runners on the base paths and going 3-for-4 with three RBIs.
He twice threw out the leadoff runner after reaching base and then came up clutch with the bat with a two-run double in the sixth that proved to be the difference.
“Coen is a very special player,” Giffen said. “He is already an elite hitter and is the best defensive catcher in the state. But what makes him special is his leadership on the field at a younger age.
“The energy he brings to the field every game is crucial, and his double was the key play in tonight’s win. Just a big-time player making big time plays.”
Palmer’s Koen Leaders pitched all six innings and shut down Service over the third, fourth and fifth innings, thanks in part to a nice 4-3 double play from second baseman Owen Hayes, who caught a liner and doubled up the runner at first.
Bryant Marks was marvelous. The catcher went 2-for-3 with two walks, a double, a triple and two RBIs, including a two-out, two-run, two-bagger that brought Palmer within a run in his final at-bat of the season.
After not playing in the postseason since 1993, Palmer has qualified for state in 2019, 2021 and 2022.
Kenai 11, Bartlett 1
Kenai (17-14, 2-1 Pool)
Hunter Williams 7IP 4H 6K 1PO 2-3 3R RBI
Andrew Pieh 3-5 4RBI
Atticus Gibson 2-3 3B RBI 3R
Jacob Belger 1-5 2B 2RBI 1CS
Bartlett (15-16, 2-1 Pool)
Connor Sessoms 2-2
Corey Gagnebin 1-2 RBI
Carl Colavecchio 1-3 R
Service 8, Palmer 7
Service (21-10, 2-1 Pool)
Sean Giffen 5IP 6K 3-4 2R
Coen Niclai 3-4 2B 3RBI 2CS
Owen Hickman 2-4 2RBI
Kolby Jensen 1-3 2RBI
Hunter Christian 2IP SV
Palmer (16-15, 0-3 Pool)
Bryant Marks 2-3 2B 3B 2RBI
Koen Leaders 6IP 3K 2-2 2RBI
Brayden Parrent 2-4 2RBI
@ Mulcahy Stadium
2:15pm - Kenai (17-14) vs. Service (21-10)
5:30pm - South (24-8) vs. Eagle River (26-10)
Tuesday's Title Game
5:30 pm - Semifinals winners