Palmer High head coach Dave Combs had a script for the ASAA Division II state baseball tournament. But the game plan is only one part of it. You still have to execute.
And that’s exactly what the Moose did. Now they are state champs for the first time in program history.
Seniors Jason Gunderson and Owen Hayes combined to scatter seven hits over seven innings to lead the Moose to a 7-3 win over Kodiak during the ASAA/First National Bank Division II State Championships title game Saturday afternoon at Wasilla High School.
“Jason, that’s the most he’s pitched in two-and-a-half weeks. He did the job that I wanted. Owen came in and slammed the door. It’s exactly what I wanted,” Combs said as his players celebrated school history.
Gunderson earned the win on the mound. He allowed five hits and struck out seven in four innings. Hayes allowed two hits, fanned five and recorded the nine-out save.
“It’s great. They’re just lights out,” Palmer catcher Dylan Garrettson said of Gunderson and Hayes. “They’re such good pitchers. They’re really accurate.”
The duo on the mound Saturday capped a stellar weekend for the Palmer pitching staff. The Moose allowed only five total runs during three wins over Grace Christian, Soldotna and Kodiak in the tourney,
Landon Guggnemos fanned 13 and tossed a complete game during a 7-1 win over SoHi in the semifinals. Hayes made the start against Grace. Palmer was able to limit Hayes’ pitch count, with the hope of the senior pitching Saturday, and Gabe Jaime pitched key innings in relief.
“That’s exactly how I planned out this tournament, and it worked,” Combs said. “It’s nice to be that deep on the pitching staff. We really worked hard to get to that point.”
With the limited pitch count in the quarterfinals, Hayes said he was ready to go in the title game. Hayes said the Moose were excited to play Kodiak again. Palmer edged the Bears by just a run in the Soutchetral Conference Championship the week before.
“We as a team really fought hard tonight. In the region championship we only beat them 8-7. I think that wasn’t good enough for us,” Hayes said.
Hayes said the Moose felt they had the ability to win a state baseball championship for the first time for their school.
“I think we had the tools to get the job done and we did it,” Hayes said. “I think we needed to come out strong and compete with the other teams. There are a lot of people in our region that are really strong.”
Palmer needed three straight wins over conference foes to win the title.
Garrettson sparked Palmer early with a solo home run in the top of the first.
“I thought it was a little short,” Garrettson said of his shot over the left field fence. “It just barely went over. I was so happy.”
Garrettson said he thought that helped lift the Moose.
“Those kind of moments are such big morale boosters,” Garrettson said.
Guggenmos singled on the game’s first pitch and quickly scored on an Adam Smithers ground out. Garrettson’s homer gave the Moose the 2-0 lead. Palmer added three runs in the third and two more in the fourth.
Lefty Landon Kitzman drove a ball into the opposite field gap and drove in two to give the Moose the 5-1 lead in the third. Litzman also tripled in the win.
Hayes also had an RBI triple in the win.
Guggenmos was 3 for 5 with two runs. Garrettson, Kitzman and Chad Landon had two hits each.
Palmer’s title came in the inaugural Division II state tourney. Baseball had been a single-classification sport since ASAA sanctioned a state tournament in 2000. Garrettson said the Moose were excited about the creation of the new division.
“We thought we had a really good opportunity,” Garrettson said. “And we love to play the Division I teams. We got to beat Wasilla, which is great.”
The Valley produced three top-4 teams in the two tournaments. Colony was the Division I runner-up and Wasilla was fourth in the DI class.
Combs shared a special moment with the founder of the program, his father Mike, handing him the trophy following the awards ceremony. Mike Combs started the Palmer High baseball program in 1996. Dave Combs, a former PHS standout who played for his dad, has been at the helm since 2007.
“It’s been a family affair. Having my dad here to watch that, I can’t put that into words,” Dave Combs said.
Contact Frontiersman managing editor Jeremiah Bartz at firstname.lastname@example.org.