Bird is the word. Trayton Bird, that is.
The Soldotna freshman helped rally the Stars baseball squad to a 5-4 victory over Kenai Central Friday evening at the Soldotna Little League fields with a high-flying walkoff hit.
After seeing the Kardinals score a go-ahead run in the top of the seventh inning that put them up 4-3, Bird found himself at the plate with the bases loaded and one out. He preceded to knock out a deep line drive double to left field that scored Mason Prior and Terrance Slats.
“I just wanted to hit the ball,” Bird said with a laugh. “I was pretty much swinging at anything.”
The win boosted Soldotna’s season mark to 4-6 in the Southcentral Conference and 5-7 overall, while Kenai dropped to 1-8 overall.
A pleased Soldotna coach Robb Quelland reiterated the fact that he was using several freshmen in key situations, adding that they all came through in the clutch.
“They all come through,” Quelland said. “Trayton came through, Caleb Spence was part of a double play, it was a great game.”
Preceding the walkoff hit, Prior put a grounder through the middle to get on base, then stole second and advanced to third on an error, which proved to be crucial in setting up the gamewinning hit for Bird. Slats got on base with a walk, and Kenai decided to intentionally walk Tyler Covey, loading the bases in hopes of turning a double play.
What the Kards got instead was Bird’s booming bat. Bird credited the entire SoHi dugout for turning up the intensity in the final two innings after four straight frames of hitless action.
“Everything’s mental,” Bird said. “We came out in the sixth and everyone was cheering and the energy level came up.”
After a combined five runs in the first inning between both teams — including a two-run homer by Kenai senior Ellery Steffensen and a steal of home plate by Bird — the game took on the look of a pitching duel, as Kenai’s Paul Steffensen and SoHi’s Joey Becher began to find their respective grooves and combined for one hit given up over four innings of work. The pair also combined to strike out seven.
With that kind of pitching prowess, Kenai’s 3-2 lead began to ominously look like it would hold up. But everything changed in the final two innings.
In the bottom of the sixth, Becher put down a sacrifice bunt to score Bird, who originally got on base with a walk. That tied things up at 3 runs apiece.
In the top of the seventh, Ellery Steffensen reached base with a leadoff walk and stole second on a SoHi error. Sam Combs’ single to right field brought Steffensen in to score, putting Kenai ahead again.
However, the Stars ultimately stole the show.
Quelland gave a tip of the cap to Kenai’s Paul Steffensen, who pitched a complete game, including a high-stress seventh inning when Kenai held a precarious 4-3 lead.
“What a great, gutsy move for (Steffensen) to stay out there,” Quelland said. “Give Paul all the credit in the world for staying out there. I don’t know what coach (John) Kennedy has in his bullpen, but we admire that kid for staying out there.”
Steffensen ended giving up five hits with five strikeouts and five walks. Becher earned the win for SoHi with five hits, eight strikeouts and five walks.
“He wanted to shut them down, and he did,” Bird said about his teammate on the mound. “They had one hit (in the final inning), but that was just lucky.”
Becher also managed to get out a jam in the fourth inning, retiring Kenai’s Nate O’Lena with two outs and the bases loaded.
Bird ended up hitting 2 for 3 to lead SoHi’s offense. In addition to both hits by the Steffensen’s, Taylor Landry and Jacob O’Brien each got a hit for Kenai.
The two schools meet again today at 1 p.m. at the Kenai Little League fields.