Soldotna sophomore Joey Becher threw strikes — well, for the most part — and let his defense take care of the rest.
Becher pitched the Stars to a 4-1 win over Palmer on Friday in Northern Lights Conference play at the Soldotna Little League fields.
The Stars improved to 2-7 overall and in the league with the victory, while Palmer dropped to 2-8 and 1-8.
Becher gave up just two hits and an unearned run while striking out eight and walking four.
It was a big improvement over his other start of the season.
“I didn’t throw very well at all,” he said of the contest against Kodiak. “I couldn’t find the strike zone. I think I lasted three innings.”
Becher started the game with two strikeouts, but then walked the bases loaded before punching out Daniel Jackson to get out of a jam.
SoHi then gave Becher a cushion in the first. Kenny Griffin reached on an error, then Justice Miller doubled and Max Conradi singled to score Griffin and Miller. Conradi scored when Klayton Justice reached on an error, then Calvin Hills singled in Justice.
Just one run in the inning was earned.
“That’s been our mantra for the season. We like to give up runs,” said Palmer coach Dave Combs, adding his team averages giving up more than 10 runs a game.
But after the first inning, Palmer starter Elias Stratton gave up just two hits and no runs the rest of the way. He gave up just five hits total, striking out eight and walking two.
“He made the adjustment to the umpire’s strike zone,” Combs said. “He can sometimes be stubborn about that.”
SoHi coach George Stein wasn’t happy with the offense after the first inning.
“I almost felt like the kids let down a little bit once they got the lead,” he said. “I think they lost focus at the plate.”
That left it to Becher and the defense to hold the lead. After Stratton scored an ugly unearned run in the third, SoHi proved up to the task.
In the fifth, second baseman Hills turned a double play. In the sixth inning, shortstop Terrance Slats got Adam Christiansen with a nice, diving play.
“The defense was great back there,” Becher said. “I think this was the best game of the year.”
In the seventh, Austin Reeder and Keegan Larson reached base to start the inning, but Cody Grogan flew to left and Reeder was doubled off of second. When the Moose would later load the bases and fail to score, that play would prove pivotal.
“We just have a young team,” Combs said. “We only have one senior.”
But Combs sees potential in that youth. Freshman Cody Grogan had a double for Palmer’s lone extra base hit, and Combs said Grogan had the best approach at the plate for his team.
Stein also sees a lot of potential in Becher.
“He grew like 3 or 4 inches since last year,” Stein said. “When he learns how to use his whole body, he’s really going to be able to bring the heat.”
Griffin, who had gone 3 for 4 in the midweek against Homer, continued to swing a hot stick by doubling before leaving with a leg injury. Hill was the lone SoHi player with two hits.
Saturday’s game between Soldotna and Houston was canceled due to the smoke.
Houston 13, Kenai 5
A slow start cost the host Kardinals on Friday at senior night in Northern Lights Conference play.
Kenai fell into a 7-2 hole after the first two innings. Coach John Kennedy said all of the runner that scored reached on walks or because they were hit by pitches.
Tim Zoda pitched the first third of an inning, giving up three runs, while Sam Combs pitched an inning and gave up four runs.
Miles Jones then came in and settled things down a bit, going 2 2-3 innings while giving up two unearned runs on two hits.
Kennedy said things started to turn around when he went to the mound in the third.
“It was senior night and I don’t know if that contributed to the lackluster play in the beginning,” he said. “I called them all to the mound and chewed on them a little bit.
“I told them, ‘This is kind of ridiculous. We’re not communicating and doing what we need to do to make things happen out here.”
After Jones, Zack Selinger pitched two innings and gave up four runs on five hits, while Nate O’Lena pitched a final scoreless inning.
On offense, Paul Steffensen was 1 for 3 with a run, Dallas Pierren was 2 for 3 with two runs and a double, Jones was 1 for 3 with a run, Connor Jones was 2 for 4 with three RBIs, Nate O’Lena was 1 for 4 with a run, Ellery Steffensen had a triple and Gabe Boyle was 1 for 2.
Kennedy said he was happy he was able to get all the seniors into the game. The seniors are Isaac Mese, Justin Burdick, Pierren, Miles Jones, Cory Stewart, Boyle, Brad Hamilton and Dustin Everitt.
The Saturday game against Palmer was canceled due to smoke and will not be made up.
The Kardinals host Homer on Monday at 3 p.m.