A seven-run inning spelled the difference for Kenai Central in a 14-5 loss to Southcentral Conference opponent Kodiak on Thursday night at the Kenai Little League fields.
The Kardinals showed a lot of moxie and improvement by tying the game after three innings of play against the high-powered Bears, but Kodiak, which improved to 5-2 in conference play with the win, found ways to pad its lead en route to the blowout.
“That was a tough first couple innings, (Kenai pitcher) Harold (Ochea) was throwing pretty good off the mound,” said Kodiak coach Jason Fox. “He was keeping our guys off balance and we couldn’t put the ball in play too much.”
Kenai dropped to 1-7 in conference, but head coach Luke Oliver praised the pitching of the left-handed Ochea, who allowed six earned runs before exiting the game in the fourth inning. Ochea held Kodiak scoreless over the first two innings before the Bears struck with five runs in the third.
“Harold pitched phenomenal for us,” Oliver said. “He pitched lights out and made some huge pitches. … I can’t ask for a better game from him. He pitched, we were right in the game, everything was where we wanted it to be.”
After Ochea was moved to put Parker Mattox on the mound, Mattox went two innings of scoreless relief, and Simon Grenier finished the final two frames with two runs allowed.
Kenai’s big third inning started with a leadoff walk drawn by Nic Wehrstein, who then stole second and third base and scored on a steal of home when Kodiak catcher Nathan James threw to second to nab an attempted steal by Ochea.
Sam Berry loaded the bases with no outs, forcing Kodiak to take starting pitcher Joel Wiersum out in favor of A.J. Barton.
From there, pinch-runner Jaryn Zoda scored on a wild pitch, but the big hit came from Seth Segura, who ripped a line drive double to left field to score two runs and tie the game at 5 apiece.
“You’ve got to hit the ball and make them make plays,” Oliver said. “Strikeouts aren’t going to help us. If we put the ball in play, they have to catch it, they have to throw it and they have to catch it again.”
Major Reis plated the first run of the game in the second inning on a line drive single to put Kenai up 1-0.
Kodiak answered with five runs in the top of the third, punctuated by a two-run triple by Lars Hanson that found its way into the left field corner.
After Kenai came back and tied it up, Kodiak again distanced itself with seven runs in the top of the fourth, starting with a two-run single by Nathan James lined to center field for a 7-5 edge. That was followed by an RBI ground-rule double by Chase Good, which chased Ochea from the pitching mound.
After Parker Mattox came in for relief, Jace Crall kept the line going with a two-run single to push the lead to 10-5. Two more runs before the end of the frame would leave the Bears up 12-5.
From there, Kodiak got lights-out pitching from its bullpen, as A.J. Barton tossed four shutout innings and Micah Arndt finished the day with a scoreless frame to close it out.
“A.J. came in a threw some strikes, which is all we needed at that point after the bats came alive,” Fox said.
Kodiak will pay Homer a visit Friday for a conference contest, and Kenai will host Homer Saturday to wrap up the regular season.
Soldotna 22, Houston 3, 3 innings
The Soldotna baseball team improved to 3-4 in the Southcentral Conference and 4-11 overall by defeating Houston on Thursday.
Davey Belger pitched the first two innings for the Stars and gave up two runs on a hit while walking three and striking out three. Brennen Werner finished up with an inning in which he yielded two hits and an unearned run while striking out two.
There were plenty of big days on offense — Jeremy Kupferschmid was 2 for 3 with two runs and two RBIs, David Michael had three runs, Tanner Ussing was 2 for 3 with three runs and two RBIs, Jacob Boze had two runs, Trapper Thompson was 2 for 3 with three runs and two RBIs, Trenton Steadman had three runs and two RBIs, Werner had two RBIs, and Belger was 2 for 2 with four RBIs.