Juneau’s Midnight Suns Post 25 American Legion Baseball team is facing their toughest task to date, and against one of the toughest teams in the league, as Dimond Post 21 ventures onto the Adair Kennedy diamonds tonight and Saturday.
“Overall, year in and year out, Dimond is a competitive ball team,” Juneau manager Andy Macaulay said. “They have a good program.”
On Wednesday Dimond led the American Division and on Thursday Wasilla was at the top.
“Dimond will take advantage of mistakes,” Macaulay said. “So our pitching and fielding really needs to avoid making walks or defensive errors.”
Six teams between the two divisions are vying for the seventh and eighth seed in the American Legion Alaska State Tournament that begins on Friday, July 25 at Anchorage’s Mulcahy Stadium.
The double elimination tournament runs through July 31 and the winner advances to the Northwest Region Tournament at Swede Johnson Stadium in Eugene, Oregon on August 7-11.
“With that many teams in contention the games this weekend will be very important,” Juneau manager Andy Macaulay said. “It will decide if we have an opportunity or not to qualify for the state tournament and look to get a seventh or eighth seed.”
Tonight’s 6 p.m. game (and Sunday’s 11 a.m. contest) is a non-conference tune up and will not affect the standings, but Saturday’s doubleheader league battles at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. could be the difference between earning a top tournament bid or being sent down to the lesser gathering of play.
“For the most part teams know that when they play Juneau they need to play hard against us,” Macaulay said. “Our kids give everything they got. They try to do a good job of working the other pitchers.”
Up and down the line up Post 25 has matured into a good swinging ball that does not chase pitches out of the strike zone.
Their most resent road trip, however, was the team’s worst string of games, winning just two, losing six and stranding base runners in each contest.
Juneau aces Tanner Petrie and Gus Swanton suffered tough close losses last week, Petrie registering his first against National Division second place team Eagle River and Swanton against the National Division leader Chugiak.
“It was really unfortunate because it doesn’t show in the stat book how well they pitched,” Macaulay said. “We struggled with runners in scoring position. We haven’t seen that this year. Again, our Achilles heel was that we made errors. We were up and made a couple mistakes.”
Against Eagle River, Juneau was up 4-2, made two mistakes and were down a couple runs according to Macaulay.
Against Chugiak the game was tighter and just two mistakes resulted in a 3-2 loss.
“Gus only gave up two hits the entire game,” Macaulay said. “We have to do a better job of executing when we have less than two outs and runners on second or third, and advancing the runners. We have to do the little things to make that happen.”
Wasilla (55 points), Dimond (52) and Service (49) sit above Juneau (43) in the American Division, with South (40) nibbling at their heels. Ketchikan (37), East (32 and West (6) trail.
Chugiak (53) leads the National Division, Eagle River is second (47), Bartlett (39), Kodiak (38) and Kenai (37) are in the hunt and Fairbanks 30 (36), Fairbanks 11 (30) and Palmer (16) finish out the standings.
“If we are fortunate to win both league games against Dimond then we would finish ahead of them in our division,” Macaulay said. “On the other side Bartlett, Kenai and Kodiak all have fewer losses than us and still have games to play. We might not know until Sunday, the last day of the season, which tournament we are going to. I think it is possible that, if two of those three teams (Bartlett, Kenai, Kodiak) win the rest of their games, it is possible for both South and Juneau to be in the Horizon Tournament and not the State Tournament, which would not have been expected at the beginning of the season.”
Teams that do not make the State Tournament will play in the Horizon Lines Invitational at Bartlett High School. Teams that finish second and third at state, and the winner of the Horizon, are invited to another national tournament associated with American Legion but not in contention for the Regional or World Series titles.
“We wish that we weren’t in this position,” Macaulay said. “But at the same time it is pretty exciting for the kids because they know how important these games are against Dimond this weekend and that could decide whether or not we go to the state tournament or the Horizon, and being this far into the summer and the kids still excited about baseball, that is a good thing.”