Kodiak Post 17 broke through last season.
The island’s American Legion baseball team finished their season at the state tournament for the first time in nearly three decades and won a game at the big show for the first time since 1986.
That win was one of the biggest upsets in Legion history as eighth-seeded Kodiak stunned top-seeded and one-loss Juneau 3-1 in the opening round.
That was the Midnight Suns’ only loss in the tournament as they went on to represent Alaska at the Northwest Regionals.
Post 17 finished tied for fifth in the double-elimination tournament.
“It meant a lot. We hadn’t been there in a long time,” Nathan James said. “Personally, it was a top-10 moment in my life.”
James and 13 of his friends are gearing up to make a return trip to the state tournament at the end of July at Mulcahy Stadium in Anchorage. But first, they must navigate a 32-game regular season to get back to the state tournament for the 13th time in program history.
The season starts at 6:30 p.m. today when Post 17 begins a four-game series against Dimond Post 21 at Baranof Field.
Today’s and Saturday’s (noon) games are nonleague, while Friday’s doubleheader (4 and 7 p.m.) counts in the standings.
Nine of Kodiak’s 14 players return from last year’s squad that finished with an 11-18 record.
Headlining the returners are Chase Good, Nathan James, Khyler Kane and Anders Hocum — all recent graduates of Kodiak High School.
Good, James and Hocum —an all-state outfielder last summer — are coming off high school seasons where they earned all-Southcentral Conference honors.
James said last year’s run to the state tournament was a morale booster for a program that had not been to state since 1992.
“We are not scared of anyone. We have all the confidence to compete with any team out there,” James said.
Post 17 manager Derek Clarkston, entering his seventh season, said the defense will carry the team through the challenging 18-game league season.
The team has veteran leadership all around the field, with Good (shortstop), James (catcher), Kane (second base) and Hocum (center field).
Dylan Wynn, Micah Ardnt, Hunter Williams, Jace Crall, Jack Malloy, Jason Foxworthy and Malakai Olson will see innings all over the diamond, while Gareth Jones, Micah Bartel and Omar Llamos will man the outfield.
Unlike past seasons, Post 17 doesn’t enter the season with a bonafide ace, but instead has a collection of arms that will eat up league innings in Good, Arndt, Wynn, Williams, Crall, James and Malloy.
James, who is entering his third season as catcher for Post 17, is excited to catch the cast of arms.
“Everybody has experience and we are only going to get deeper as the season goes on,” James said.
Foxworthy, Olson and Jones will also see the mound this season.
The 32 games is the most for Post 17 since rejoining American Legion baseball in 2013. The Bears will not leave the island in June as they play 16 games — eight league — against Dimond, East Anchorage, Wasilla and Kenai.
Kodiak’s July road schedule includes a spot in the Todd Ryan Memorial Tournament (July 5-7) in Wasilla. The Bears will open the tournament against a team from Ohio.
Most players would balk at the idea of spending nearly all of July on the road, but not Kodiak players. They are built for it.
“The biggest edge that we have over any opponent is that we are close with each other,” James said. “We travel together and eat together. Our team chemistry is the best ... that is what we can build off of.”
The top three teams in both of the eight-team divisions qualify for the state tournament, while two teams will earn wild-card spots.
Kodiak competes in the American Division with Dimond, Palmer, Service, South Anchorage, Kenai, Ketchikan and North Pole.
East, West Anchorage, Chugiak, Eagle River, Wasilla, Bartlett, Juneau and Fairbanks make up the National Division.