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Service walks it off in extras to advance to Friday’s final four along with South, Sitka and Eagle River

by | May 31, 2024 | Baseball, Cover Story

Service’s Landon Martindale receives words of encouragement before his walk-off hit. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

After running through the regular season unbeaten and winning the Cook Inlet Conference Tournament title, the Service High baseball team was rewarded with the toughest first-round matchup in Thursday’s ASAA Division I state tournament.

An at-large team in name only, Chugiak came into the state playoffs with sharp edges after being battle tested in the CIC. Ranked fourth in Alaska by MaxPreps, the Mustangs had proven they had the chops to challenge the top-ranked team in four previous meetings this year including a tie that’s the only blemish on Service’s record.

Oh, and Chugiak rolled out right-handed ace Preston Rau on Thursday. All he’s done is go 11-4 with a sub-2 ERA in his last three high school seasons.

It would have been easy for the Cougars to cry foul, but they dug deep and pulled a rabbit from their hat with a magical 2-1 victory in extra innings at Mulcahy Stadium.

Landon Martindale’s RBI single with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth inning proved to be the difference on a night when Service pitchers Rilen Niclai and Hunter Christian outdueled Rau, who was sensational in his complete-game effort.

Chugiak scored its lone run three batters into the game and watched Rau hold a potent Service offense to just one run in seven innings before things slipped away in the eighth. The Mustangs played as well as they have all season in a performance that would have been good enough to beat most teams on most days.

Tip your cap to Service, which showed moxie in big moments and got a remarkable relief pitching from Niclai to extend the team’s 21-game unbeaten streak and advance to Friday’s final four. This was the third straight one-run victory for the Cougars, who improved to 5-0-1 in that department this season.

ASAA/First National Bank
Division I State Tournament
At Mulcahy Stadium

Sitka 11, West Valley 1
Eagle River 14, Juneau 0
South 5, Colony 4
Service 2, Chugiak 1
10am Juneau (9-9) vs. Colony (15-11)
1pm West Valley (12-6-2) vs Chugiak (11-9-1)
4pm Sitka (15-5) vs. Service (20-0-1)
7pm Eagle River (15-7) vs. South (21-3)
10am Fourth-Place Game
12:30pm Third-Place Game
3:30pm Title Game

Reigning CIC MVP Hunter Christian went 3-for-3 and led off the eighth inning with a single and went to second on Owen Hickman’s single. After Andrew Hickman was intentionally walked to load the bases, Martindale stroked a single up the middle for the walk-off base knock.

Niclai, a sophomore, pitched the final four innings and struck out the side in the top of the eighth, giving him five Ks in a row and six for the game. He fanned two straight batters with a runner in scoring position to end the seventh and his big bro Coen threw out a runner at second base to end the sixth.

Christian and Owen Hickman had back-to-back doubles in the fourth when Service tied the game 1-1.

Chugiak took a 1-0 in the first inning after Fischer Sims and Tyler Cage hit consecutive singles before Landon Luebke’s ground out plated the first run. Rau was his usual superb self and held the state’s most effective lineup – which features five college signees and two .400 hitters – in check for most of the way.

Chugiak’s Sampson Young and Preston Rau talk strategy. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Chugiak coach John Sims also did a masterful job of putting his team in position to win as he played with fire in each of the first and seventh innings and did not get burned. In the first, he issued an intentional walk to Christian to load the bases and got a 6-4-3 double play to come away unscathed. In the seventh, he issued back-to-back free passes to Jake Rafferty (3 HRs) and Coen Nicali (.455 hitter) to face Rilen Niclai (26 RBIs) with two outs and again came away clean after second baseman Jayden Steckel snagged a liner to rob a base hit.

This was the fifth meeting of the season between the teams. Earlier this month, Chugiak gave the Cougars their only blemish with an 11-11 tie after the teams combined for 11 runs in the final inning. In addition to that, one game was 4-2 and the last two were 2-1.

Chugiak 100 000 00 – 1 5 2
Service 000 100 01 – 2 9 1
Chugiak – Rau and Young. Service – Christian, R. Niclai (5) and C. Niclai. W – R. Niclai. L – Rau. 2B – Christian (S), O. Hickman (S). 3B – None. HR – None.

South’s Kolby Jensen puts a charge in one. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

South 5, Colony 4

The Knights shot themselves in the foot in the seventh inning and let three-time defending state champion South off the hook. The Wolverines benefitted from four walks, a wild pitch, error and sac fly to plate four runs without a base hit as they pulled out a 5-4 first-round win. Colony outhit South 13-4 and threw out three runners on the base paths but fell to 0-13 all-time against the Wolverines including 0-5 at the state tournament. South’s Blake Peterson carried a shutout into the fifth inning and pitched into the seventh before he was pulled for reliever Trevor Maltby, who got the save after ending the game with the tying run on second base. Landon Drumm’s sac fly made it 4-2 and an errant throw to third base by Colony allowed another run to skirt home, which proved to be the difference for South. Colony catcher Aidan Satterly threw out two base runners at third base and starting pitcher Kaesen Buzby picked off a runner at first base. Colony also ended the sixth with a double play after doubling up a runner who left second base too early trying to tag on a flyball to center.

South 010 000 4 – 5 4 1
Colony 000 020 2 – 4 13 2
South – Peterson, Trev. Maltby (7) and Jensen. Colony – Buzby, Parrent and Satterly. W – Peterson. L – Parrent. SV – Maltby. 2B – None. 3B – None. HR – None.

Sitka’s Tanner Steinson throws to second base. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Sitka 11, West Valley 1

The Wolves struck for three runs in the first inning and three double plays on defense to highlight an 11-1 first-round win over West Valley. Bryce Calhoun and Chance Coleman each had two-run singles and Josh Gluth added an RBI double to power a nine-hit attack for Sitka, which improved to 3-0 all-time against the Wolfpack at the state tournament. Grady Smith and Tanner Steinson each had sac flies and Calhoun scored three runs for Sitka, which advanced to Friday’s final four. Pitcher Levi Hodges pitched all six innings and danced around trouble all afternoon to pick up the win, thanks to a delightful defense that turned three double plays and erased two runners on the basepaths. Steinson, the catcher, made two putouts on relays of 1-2 and 9-4-5-2. West Valley’s Eli Taylor went 3-for-3 at the plate and Elias Powell scored his team’s lone run on a Sitka throwing error.

West Valley 001 000 – 1 6 1
Sitka 301 106 – 11 9 2
West Valley – Taylor, Sunie (4), Leak (6), Otness (6) and Michel. Sitka – Hodges and Steinson. W – Hodges. L – Taylor. 2B – Gluth (S). 3B – McLeod (S). HR – None.

Eagle River’s Riley Lanehart shows off his game face. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Eagle River 14, Juneau 0

Ryan Mullen and Jack Mullen each knocked in three runs as the Wolves made quick work of the Crimson Bears in a five-inning first-round victory. Dallin Roberts went 2-for-2 with two walks and has now reached base in 12 of his last 14 plate appearances dating back to last week’s CIC Tournament. The leadoff hitter singled on the first pitch to get the party started, stole second, went to third on a balk and scored on a wild pitch. The third baseman also turned a 5-3 double play after snagging a liner. Ryan Mullen’s two-run single and Kamden Kurtz’s 2-run double powered a four-run second inning for the Wolves. Kurtz finished 3-for-3 and reached base four times. Jack Mullen’s two-run single made it 9-0. Juneau’s Landon Simonson banged out both base hits for his team while centerfielder Lamar Cabrigas-Blatnick made seven putouts, including five in a row across the first and second innings.

Eagle River 240 35 – 14 9 0
Juneau 000 00 – 0 2 4
Eagle River – Molloy, Lanehart (3) and J. Mullen. Juneau – Huff, Keeler (5) and Fick. W – Lanehart. L – Huff. 2B – Kurtz (ER). 3B – None. HR – None.

Juneau’s Nathan Fick leaps to make a catch while another Eagle River run scores. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

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