The Juneau Post 25 Midnight Suns ended a long and painful losing streak for Alaska Legion AA teams at the Northwest Regional, snapping the state’s 10-year, 19-game tournament losing streak with a 13-9 win over the host Post 27 Mavs in Missoula, Montana.
Juneau capitalized in the sixth inning with a six-run offensive outburst in the top half and two delightful defensive plays in the bottom half, which added up to a historic victory the entire state should savor.
Phil Wall — the state tournament MVP — played a pivotal role in the decisive sixth inning. At the plate, he cleared the bases with a three-run double down the right-field line to give his team a 9-7 lead. In the field, the second baseman saved a run when he made a nice play moving to his left to field and fire to first for the out.
Bobby Cox made a wonderful diving catch in right field in the sixth inning. He also went 3-for-5 with two runs and two RBIs on a day when the Midnight Suns collected 15 hits and drew seven walks to keep persistent pressure on four Montana pitchers.
Gabe Storie stroked a two-run standup double in the top of the seventh to make the score 13-9 and provide insurance for relief pitcher Kasey Watts, who closed the door with a strong final inning.
Juneau’s victory was the first for an Alaska team at the Northwest Regional since 2009 when South Post 4 beat Cheyenne (Wyoming) 5-4.
The Midnight Suns have been close in their previous two games at regionals — losing 8-7 yesterday to Meridian (Idaho) and 3-1 last year to Lewiston (Idaho).
So, it’s fitting Juneau was the team to make Alaska history.
Juneau (29-2) came out looking to win right away, jumping out to a 1-0 in the first inning on Cox’s two-out single that scored Michael Cesar, who reached on an error to start the rally. The lead swelled to 3-0 in the second inning after the Midnight Suns scored on a balk and a Cesar RBI single.
Montana roared back to take a 4-3 lead, much like Idaho did in Wednesday’s tournament opener. And just like that game, Juneau answered immediately when Watts belted a solo home run to tie things up at 4-4.
In the past, so many Alaska teams would get off to a good start at the regional tournament only to have a Lower 48 team bash its way back into the game. But this Juneau team has the muscle and moxie to keep up in a slugfest.
Down 5-4 in the fifth, Juneau tied the game again on Zeb Storie’s sac fly.
Down 7-5 in the sixth, Cox drove in a run with a single before Wall brought home three runs with a double to put Juneau ahead for good.
Watts, who got the final out of the eighth inning, stayed in the game and had a relatively quiet seventh inning with two popups and a lineout to end the game.
The team’s next game is Friday at 11 a.m. ADT in another loser-out game against the loser between Yakima Valley (WA) Post 36 and Billings (MT) Post 4. Watch live at www.mpsn406.com.
Juneau 121 016 2 - 13 15 2
Missoula 041 022 0 - 9 9 3
Juneau — Cox, G. Storie (2), Z. Storie (5), Watts (6) and Cesar. Montana — Heidrick, J. Martin (5), T. Martin (6), Hill (7) and Clayton. W — Watts. L — Hill. 2B — Wall (J), G.Storie (J), Martin (M). 3B — None. HR — Watts (J).
• Van Williams is the ALB media director and works for the Alliance for Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska. This article is reprinted here with permission.