ANCHORAGE — The Wasilla Road Warriors earned their second straight trip to the championship baseball game held in late July.
Behind the stellar pitching performance of freshman Logan Bailey and the sweet swing of incoming senior Nolan Murphy, Wasilla defeated the South Wolverines 11-1 by way of the 10-run mercy rule in six innings on Tuesday at Mulcahy Stadium in the state semifinal of the Alliance Baseball League championship tournament.
Wasilla earns a date with West on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at Mulcahy for the state title. Last summer, Wasilla lost to Juneau in the championship game before putting up an impressive showing at the Northwest Regional.
“We came in with a lot of confidence and ready to just really tear up somebody,” said Murphy. “We’ve just got to bring the same energy tomorrow and we’ve got a good shot.”
In the top of the first inning with two outs, Murphy slapped a single for the first of his three hits and later scored on a single by Waylon Payne. Payne then scored on a balk to give Wasilla the 2-0 lead and provide Bailey some breathing room before he even stepped on the mound to face a potent South lineup.
“They did a hell of a job if. It wasn’t for them it would’ve been a good game but we just blew them out,” said Bailey.
Bailey masterfully navigated the South lineup with low, hard fastballs and a tight breaking ball that had hitters fooled all afternoon. To end the first inning, Bailey struck out Reid Brock and Gage Webster, the talented South star headed to the University of Utah in the fall. In the bottom of the third inning, South’s Dylan Maltby hit a sacrifice fly to right field which Murphy caught and rifled to Wasilla first baseman Calvin Stoll to catch Brock off the bag and turn a double play.
“I was honestly fully confident in him. We’ve seen him throw before. He’s been able just to deal and even going against a good hitting team like South he was able to really dial down, throw strikes and our defense was backing him up all day,” said Murphy.
Bailey needed just 106 pitches to earn the win in six innings, striking out five South batters and walking only two on five hits. Bailey ended three different innings with strikeouts and retired the first batter in five of his six innings pitched. The freshman earned co-Player of the Game honors alongside Murphy for his performance.
“He’s amazing. He’s a great young man,” said Wasilla head coach Ken Ottinger. “He’s a baller. He’s above his age mentally.”
The night before the state semifinal matchup against South, the Warriors held one final practice at McManus Field, the natural surface diamond at the Bumpus Ballfields in Wasilla. Rather than run through drills in preparation for the big game, Ottinger and the Warriors took turns racing down the right field line before diving their way down a homemade slip and slide. Players and coaches alike shrieked with joy as they sprinted through the grass and glided with ease down the slip and slide.
“The one big thing was enjoy your last night at McManus,” said Ottinger. “The kids kind of learned the history and they wanted to have one more night and just have fun.”
On Tuesday, Gilbert put his sliding skills to work, stealing three bases for Wasilla. Gilbert and Andre Brown scored on Murphy’s second hit of the night, a lined shot that was misplayed by the right fielder and ruled a triple, giving Wasilla the 4-1 lead in the top of the fourth inning. Murphy led the team with three hits and three RBI’s and is hitting .636 for the state tournament.
“I was just trying not to do too much with it, put it in play and see what would happen,” said Murphy.
In the top of the sixth inning, Wasilla more than tripled their lead. As South starter Josh McGovern began to tire, Gilbert walked, stole two bases and scored on another Murphy single to right field. Lucas Wilkins relieved McGovern and could not record an out and Brock finished the game for the Wolverines. In total during the sixth inning, three South pitchers issued a combined five walks and two hit batsmen, allowing Wasilla to score seven more runs to pad their lead. South’s five errors on defense allowed Wasilla extra outs for two-out rallies in the first and fourth innings.
“It’s just a great feeling and you never know when you’re going to get it again so I’m appreciating this just as much as last year,” said Ottinger.
Wasilla was the away team against South as the number five seed in the state tournament and improved their record to 22-5. South finished the season with an 18-9 record. Wasilla has won all four of their state tournament games, defeating Dimond, West, Juneau and South by outscoring their opponents 26-9. West defeated Eagle River 15-12 in the following game to earn their first state title game berth since 1988. Wasilla has not won a state title since 1990, but took the High School baseball championship in 2019 and runner up in American Legion baseball last season.
“At this point in the season, I’ve done my job. There’s not much more I can coach,” said Ottinger. “The best thing I could do right now is let them play.”
Wasilla already defeated West by a score of 10-8 during pool play of the state tournament. West carries a 16-12 record overall into the title matchup against Wasilla, but will be playing their ace card in the form of Leland Wilson, the tall left handed pitcher who has been dominating Alliance hitters all season and is headed to pitch at Texas Tech University next fall. Though Wasilla’s Division 1 commit Clayton Boyett had his season cut short by injury, Ottinger is confident in his own ace.
“We’ve got Gilbert,” said Ottinger proudly.
Both Gilbert and Wilson earned first Team of Excellence honors as starting pitchers. Gilbert has also done his fair share of dominating from the mound this season with a wiry frame and unruly blonde hair emanating from under his Warriors cap. Gilbert struck out 13 Dimond Lynx in the Warriors first game of the tournament and needed just seven pitches to work through an inning against the Legion Legends during last week’s exhibition All-Star game. Without a massive frame the likes of Wilson or Webster, Gilbert’s excellence lies in deception. Throwing from a variety of arm angles with a smorgasbord of moving pitches, Gilbert has become an expert in commanding the rhythm of the game and spotting his 80 mile per hour fastball with pinpoint accuracy.
“I’ve known him since, shoot the fifth grade, so I just wanted to see him pitch one more time for me and let the dice roll where they go,” said Ottinger.