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By SPENCER GLEASON
Daily News Sports Editor
For many players on the Ketchikan Post 3’s 2019 roster, Tuesday was it.
After years of playing a game, surrounded by friends on a ball field — laughing together at inside jokes and the countless momentary high-fives — Tuesday didn’t just represent the finale of a season.
But it was the end for a group that had grown up playing a game they all love together.
So when the final out of the Matson Invitational championship game was recorded at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage on Tuesday morning — and the team gathered together to celebrate its 6-1 victory over Eagle River — it was the last time this group would be together in uniform on a ball field.
“I’ve spent six years around this group,” Post 3 manager Johnny Milner said of his senior class. “It’s been quite a ride watching these kids mature.”
Wyatt Barajas and Liam Kiffer will continue playing college baseball together, alongside fellow classmate Cody Kemble, at Clackamas College in Oregon next season.
But when they’re standing on the pitcher’s mound, Azariah Schultz won’t be sitting behind the plate.
Gabe Bowlen and Tug Olson, who graduated from Kayhi in 2018, had returned to play American Legion Baseball this season. But neither will play at the college level, or will be eligible to play legion baseball again next summer.
“It’s their last baseball game,” Milner said. “At least for sure with these guys.”
And each contributor who had found their groove throughout the Matson Invitational tournament, and played key roles in each victory — Hayden McGarrigan, Terik Brown, McKinley Brown, Korbin Stack, Vinny Trujillo, Dylan Nedzwecky, CJ Jasper, Tyler Slick and James Nordlund — will continue playing baseball. But their friends from older classes won’t be there.
Tuesday was it.
“It’s a great group of kids,” Milner said. “Everybody contributed.”
And indeed, everybody did contribute during Post 3’s four-game winning streak to sweep the Matson Invitational tournament in Anchorage. And the 6-1 championship victory ensured that this group would finish the year on a high note.
After finishing the regular season at an even 14-14 record, Post 3 ended the year 18-14.
“It was bittersweet because I think there were some expectations for us to be in the (state tournament),” Milner said. “But we got to finish the season with four wins.
“They were excited,” he continued. “I think they knew what their competition (was like). But still excited to come in, and get those wins.”
Ketchikan entered the Matson Invitational as the top seed in the tournament.
They rolled past South Open — a JV legion squad — in the opening round on Friday, 10-0. And followed that performance with a 17-7 win over North Pole Post 30 on Saturday.
McGarrigan nearly tossed a complete game against Service Post 28 in the Matson Invitational semifinal on Sunday, going 6 2/3 innings. And Post 3 won 7-1 to advance to the tournament’s championship.
And from there, Post 3 was championship bound.
Barajas, who was named the tournament’s MVP, tossed five innings of one-run ball against Eagle River, and Kiffer closed out the final two frames to seal the deal.
Barajas struck out seven, and the duo combined to allow just four hits.
The game remained 1-1 until the bottom of the fourth inning, when Post 3 plated three runs.
After Eagle River scored its run in the top of the inning, via an errant throw by Schultz toward third base that sailed into left field, the senior catcher got his payback, and laid down a picture perfect bunt in his next at-bat.
Brown scored on the play, breaking the 1-1 tie. And Ketchikan never looked back.
“That fired everybody up,” Milner said. “I know it fired AZ up. He felt pretty bad after that play (earlier in the inning).”
Schultz finished the day going 1-for-3, with that RBI and a run scored.
Brown was 1-for-2 with two runs scored, as was Barajas. Both Bowlen and Olson had an RBI. Jasper also knocked in a run. And Kiffer scored a run.
After Post 3 scored three runs in its share of the fourth inning, Ketchikan plated two more in the bottom half of the fifth.
Brown led off with a double, followed by a walk to Kiffer, and two swiped a double steal.
Barajas grounded out, but Brown crossed the dish on the play. And Bowlen knocked in Kiffer.
“It was pretty close until the fourth inning,” Milner said. “And then we kind of opened it up.”
Ketchikan’s offensive outburst never let up once it started rolling along.
“Terik was on base a couple times,” Milner said. “That really solidified our lineup.
“It was really nice to get Tug’s and Gabe’s bats going, and AZ’s too,” he continued.
And after playing a season full of double-headers, one game a day also was a welcomed change of pace.
“One game a day is nice,” Milner said.
But after Kiffer struck out the side to end the game — and the season — it was time to reflect.
“They’re talking about it now,” Milner said. “Kind of the reality (of it).”
But as another baseball season ends, and some careers in the game become complete, other younger players are just picking up steam.
And soon another baseball season will be right around the corner.
“(We had) Terik and Korbin and Hayden find their footing in the mix of things,” Milner said. “By the end of it, it was nice to see those guys step up, and it’s exciting for next year’s program.”