Kodiak Post 17's Ryan Bezona, left, Aaron Hocum and Austin Frick

Kodiak Post 17's Ryan Bezona, left, Aaron Hocum and Austin Frick stand together during a pitching change in an American Legion varsity baseball game against the Alaska Wild at Bartlett High School on July 18. (Derek Clarkston photo)

Kodiak Post 17 narrowly missed qualifying for the American Legion State Baseball Tournament.

Instead, Post 17 will play in the newly formed Horizon Lines Invitational that begins today at Bartlett and South Anchorage high schools.

No. 1-seeded Kodiak opens against No.8-seeded West Anchorage at 6 p.m. at South Anchorage.

When American Legion expanded from 12 to 16 teams this season, league officials designed a new state tournament with only the top eight teams, while the bottom eight went to the Horizon Lines Invitational. Past state tournaments had 10 teams.

In its first season of being a varsity program, Kodiak just missed being in the top eight, losing two league games when leading by three with two innings left and dropping an 11-inning game to Eagle River.

Post 17 was knocked out of contention on the final day of the regular season with a 3-1 loss to South. Both South and Kodiak finished with a 10-8 league record and 48 points, but South got the ticket to the big dance by virtue of the win.

"We were very close," said Post 17 manager Leonard Pickett about playing at state. "We had opportunities along the way, we just didn't cash in when we needed to."

If Kodiak wins one of those four games, it would be playing for a state title and a chance to travel to the Lower 48. Pickett said it is disappointing to not make the state tournament, but he is looking forward to the Horizon Lines Invitational, a double-elimination tournament that concludes on July 30.

"We have a good mindset, coaches and players," Pickett said. "We are still playing baseball at this point. We may have not hit the mark that we wanted to in playing at the state tournament, but we are still playing for something."

Kodiak has plenty to play for. The winner of the Horizon Lines Invitational advances to play in the Northwest Regional A Tournament that begins Aug. 8 in Anchorage. That tournament will feature the state's runner-up and third-place finishers, plus five teams from the Lower 48.

Last year, South Anchorage finished third in the Northwest Regional A Tournament, one of the highest showings from an Alaska team.

"That is a big thing," Pickett said. "It is part of a national tournament and we would be facing teams from the Lower 48 if we are fortunate to get in — that is something we are looking forward to at this point."

Kodiak has the talent to make a return trip to Anchorage. Jakob Arnold and Sam Bennett anchor a pitching staff that will be looked upon to keep Post 17 in the winners' bracket — an opening-round loss would force Kodiak to win six consecutive games to claim the title as apposed to four straight victories in the winners' bracket.

Arnold, a rising Kodiak High School senior, posted a 3-0 record in six starts with an earned run average of 2.52. Bennett, an upcoming KHS junior, went 2-4 in the regular season with a 3.64 ERA.

"Having to win four games in five days, pitching is going to play a big factor in our success," Pickett said.

Kodiak's offense compiled a .300 batting average during regular-season league games, with five players hitting over that mark — Jon LeVan (.442), Austin Frick (.423), Frank Carlson (.423), Brandan Pickett (.370) and Aaron Hocum (.333).

The Kodiak-West winner plays either fourth-seeded Ketchikan (7-11) or fifth-seeded East Anchorage (5-13) on Sunday, while the losers' play each other on Saturday.

On the other side of the bracket third-seeded Bartlett (8-10) plays sixth-seeded Fairbanks 11 (5-13), while second-seeded Fairbanks 30 (9-9) plays seventh-seeded Palmer (1-17).

State tournament

The state tournament also begins today at Mulcahy Stadium.

Top-seeded Wasilla (15-3) plays eight-seeded South, No. 2 Service (13-5) plays No. 7 Juneau (11-7), No. 3 Chugiak (13-5) plays No. 6 Dimond (12-6) and No. 4 Eagle River (13-5) plays No. 5 Kenai (12-6).

Kodiak beat Chuigak, Eagle River and Kenai and fell short of beating Service and South during the regular season.

Contact Derek Clarkston at sports@kodiakdailymirror.com.

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