Chugiak, Alaska (Alaska Sports Report) - The Chugiak Mustangs didn’t need a miracle to end the longest winning streak in the history of Alaska high school baseball.
They simply executed the ABCs of baseball – pitching, defense and timely hitting.
Preston Rau threw five fabulous innings, the Mustangs turned two double plays and centerfielder Andrew Gruszynski had two RBIs to highlight Saturday’s 4-1 victory over the South Wolverines in a Cook Inlet Conference league game at Bartlett High School.
The loss snapped South’s state record 51-game, 4-year winning streak that dated back to May 22, 2019, when Chugiak won 2-1 in the CIC playoffs. On that day, it was Billy Smith pitching the Mustangs to victory. On Saturday, it was Rau.
He relieved freshman starter Tyson Morgan in the third inning and threw four scoreless frames before giving up a solo home run to Gavin Partch in the seventh inning. Rau struck out four batters and did not issue a walk as he commanded the strike zone.
“From a pitching perspective, Preston was really proud of his performance,” said Chugiak coach John Sims. “He does such a good job of working from ahead. He gets a strike right away and then he’s got four pitches that he can throw for strikes, so he does a really good job keeping hitters off balance.”
Gabe Gruszynski and Hunter Rau each singled and scored two runs for the Mustangs (5-4, 1-1 CIC). Morgan and Preston Rau surrendered only two hits against an offense that came into the game averaging 7.7 runs per game.
(Photo by Bryan Boyett/Alaska Sports Report)
One of those hits was a homer off Partch’s bat in his only plate appearance He also pitched a 6-hitter for South (7-1, 1-1 CIC), with none of the runs being earned as the defense made five errors behind him.
“I was really impressed with his individual performance,” Sims said of Partch. “Battled like a champ.”
In addition to earning the winning decision, Rau also drove in a run for Chugiak. Tyler Cage had an RBI double and Gruszynski smacked an RBI line-drive single in the sixth inning as the Mustangs’ lead swelled to 4-0.
“That was big and gave us some comfort,” Sims said. “South is really good at coming back in the last innings. They did it to us the first game, so getting that one extra run was huge. Andrew had a good at-bat and did a good job putting the ball in play.”
On April 19, South beat Chugiak 4-3 in walk-off fashion after scoring three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. The come-from-behind win has been a consistent theme for the Wolverines, who started this season 7-0 with three wins coming that way.
It happened just last night after South rallied from a 5-3 deficit in the seventh inning to pull out a 6-5 nonleague win over Juneau-Douglas in eight innings. Wins like that are what led to the Wolverines having an aura of invincibility surrounding them. They wouldn’t just defeat opponents; they ripped out their hearts by either beating them to a pulp or pulling a rabbit out of a hat.
(South’s Blake Peterson wears one. Photo by Bryan Boyett/Alaska Sports Report)
Having the streak snapped wasn’t the end of the world for the Wolverines.
“Maybe our guys will be able to play a little more relaxed now,” said South coach Taylor Nerland. “The added pressure they have been putting on themselves has been overbearing at times.”
Even after graduating 26 seniors over the past two seasons, with at least a dozen going off to play in the college ranks, the beat went on for the reigning two-time state champion Wolverines.
One loss won’t mess with that mystique. The reality is in its last 53 games, South is 5-2 against Chugiak and 46-0 against the rest of the state.
“Our success over the past number of years has been due to the hard work and sacrifices of everybody on the team and this year is no different,” Nerland said. “The season is just getting started and we are still looking forward to getting better each practice and game.”
One victory won’t suddenly make Chugiak the CIC frontrunner in a league as evenly matched as ever in its 30-year history, but Sims likes the direction his club is trending.
“It’s such a long season. There is such a long way to go,” he said. “South is a really good team, so we expect to see their best again from them next time.”