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Unbeaten Service secures CIC pennant with down-to-the wire win over Eagle River

by | May 25, 2024 | Baseball, Cover Story

Service’s Landon Martindale. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

On a night when the defense was shaky, Service High centerfielder Landon Martindale provided a steady hand that saved the Cougars when it mattered most.

With his team hanging on for dear life in the seventh inning, Martindale made a leaping catch to snuff out an Eagle River rally and help Service win 5-4 in the title game of the Cook Inlet Conference Tournament at Mulcahy Stadium.

The victory extended Service’s 20-game unbeaten streak and secured the school’s first major championship since winning the 2001 state title. It also ended a recent run of stinging title-game losses for the Cougars, so when the Wolves started to make noise at crunch time there was a feeling of ‘here we go again.’

But Martindale wasn’t having it. Fearless in big moments, he probably scared his teammates after initially misreading the laser hit off the bat of Eagle River slugger Ryan Mullen. The hardest ball for an outfielder to judge is the one hit right at them, and Martindale initially came in a few steps before going back and jumping to make a sprawled out catch.

Martindale’s defense coupled with Owen Hickman’s relief pitching saved the Cougars from a devastating late-game collapse.

Last season, Service reached the title game of the ASAA Division I state tournament, the American Legion state tournament and the Northwest Class A Regional Tournament, losing each time in one-run heartbreak.

This season the Cougars have turned those frowns upside down by virtue of winning the games they used to lose. Friday’s victory gave the Cougars their second tournament title after beating Eagle River 9-0 in the final of last month’s Buddy Dale Invitational at Wasilla High School.

Service’s Owen Hickman. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Service pitcher Jake Rafferty was on the mound for the Buddy Dale final, and he started Friday’s final as well. Although his defense let him down with three throwing errors that led to three unearned runs, Rafferty got the win after going 4.1 innings but was lifted in part because of an apparent muscle strain. The right-hander didn’t look comfortable in the later stages of his appearance as he continuously stretched and shook his left leg.

Hickman stepped in and stepped up, holding off a hard-charging Wolves team that made things very interesting at the end. Held to just one hit through the first six innings, Eagle River banged out singles in the seventh by Miguel Marrero, Dallin Roberts and Gunner Mountcastle.

That rally, coupled with Service’s fourth error of the night, allowed Eagle River to pull within a run and get two runners into scoring position before Hickman induced a pop up to Rafferty at first base to end the threat.

Top-seeded Service (19-0-1) became the first team not named South to win the CIC title in the tournament’s four-year existence.

Service’ Coen Niclai. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

The Cougars got it done thanks to a four-run explosion in the third inning against a pitcher who’s had their number in the past. Eagle River southpaw starter Liam Lierman – the reigning CIC MVP – threw a no-hitter against Service in last summer’s Legion state title game and many of those same Cougars were in the batting order Friday.

Hunter Christian’s RBI single in the first inning tied the game 1-1 and then Service broke the game open in the third, which was ignited by a leadoff walk to Rafferty and an RBI triple by Coen Niclai, the reigning Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year.

Owen Hickman and Andrew Hickman (no relation) tacked on RBIs and another run scored on an error as Service’s lead swelled to 5-1.

Eagle River (14-7) went to the bullpen and reliever Ryan Mullen did his job, holding the Cougars off the scoreboard for the next three innings and ending the sixth on a strikeout with runners on second and third.

Eagle River’s Ryan Mullen. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Roberts singled, walked and was hit by a pitch on the night as he reached base eight of 10 plate appearances in the tournament. He was also robbed of a hit by left fielder Andrew Hickman.

In addition to coming up clutch with a base hit in the seventh, Mountcastle made a charging catch in centerfield to end the first inning and save two runs from scoring.

Both teams earned automatic berths to next week’s ASAA Division I state tournament.

Eagle River 100 200 1 – 4 4 2
Service 104 000 x – 5 5 4
Eagle River – Lierman, R. Mullen (4) and J. Mullen. Service – Rafferty, O. Hickman (5) and C. Niclai. W – Rafferty. L – Lierman. SV – O. Hickman. 2B – None. 3B – C. Niclai (S). HR – None.

South’s Kolby Jensen. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

Third-Place Game

Kolby Jensen carried a shutout into the fifth inning and earned the winning decision while South banged out 13 hits to power an 11-1 win in six innings over Chugiak in the third-place game.

Robert Hughes went 2-for-3 with a triple and two RBIs and the Wolverines took control with a six-run second inning that was fueled by two double steals and five hits.

Carson Maltby had a two-run single in that second inning while Chase Mascelli, Landon Drumm, Logan Guess and Jensen added single RBIs. In the third inning, Trey Maltby’s RBI single tacked on the extra point to make it 7-0.

Chugiak catcher Sampson Young singled and threw out a baserunner, his third of the tournament. The Mustangs got on the board in the fifth inning on Preston Rau’s pinch-hit RBI single that scored Owen Dockstader.

With the win, South (20-3) earned an automatic berth to the state tournament while Chugiak (11-8-1) looks to be in good shape to snag an at-large berth.

Chugiak 000 010 – 1 2 4
South 061 121 – 11 13 0
Chugiak – Steckel, Theis (5) and Young. South – Jensen, Dav. Feigner (6) and Dixon. W – Jensen. L – Steckel. 2B – None. 3B – Hughes (S). HR – None.

Chugiak players converge to make the catch. Photo by Stephanie Burgoon/Alaska Sports Report

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