They didn’t have the start they envisioned, but by the end of opening day at the Division II state softball tournament, head coach Bill Bell had the Homer Mariners humming at full song.
The Mariners split a pair of pool play games Thursday at Anchorage’s Cartee Fields, losing 11-7 to Ketchikan before dominating Hutchison 23-1.
In the six-team tournament, the top team from each pool gets the benefit of playing one less game Friday, when the championship bracket begins.
Homer finished second in Pool A, which was won by Ketchikan with a 2-0 record, while Hutchison finished 0-2. Sitka emerged as the top team from Pool B at 2-0, while Kodiak took second at 1-1 and Delta Junction finished third at 0-2.
Homer gets started in the championship bracket with a 12:15 p.m. game today against Delta. A win by Homer would put the Mariners into a 2:45 p.m. semifinal, while a loss drops them into the loser-out bracket with a 5 p.m. game.
Thursday’s 10 a.m. game with Ketchikan wasn’t what the Mariners had in mind. Bell described it as a sluggish start.
“They talked about what they want out of warmups tomorrow that’ll prepare them for hitting against (Delta),” Bell said. “From a coaches standpoint, we probably didn’t do what we needed to do, to get them fired up for the Ketchikan game. It was like we drifted out of the hotel after breakfast and up here.”
Ketchikan scored five runs in the first inning en route to taking a 6-1 lead, but Homer rallied back to go up 7-6, only to lose it with four runs allowed in the bottom of the fourth.
It was a different story in the Hutchison game, as Homer raced out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning, then tacked on 10 more runs in the second to open up a commanding lead, helped by stout pitching and defense, to end the game after three innings due to the mercy rule.
To demonstrate its lopsided nature, Hutchison brought 13 batters to the plate total, while Homer brought up 13 to bat in the second inning alone. The Mariners batted around in all three innings.
Leadoff left-hander Grace Godfrey helped lead the charge with four RBIs, getting a pair of two-run hits to finish 2 for 3 with three runs scored. Godfrey attributed the offensive explosion it to a patient plate approach.
“We were waiting on it really nicely,” Godfrey said. “Just waiting for the pitch to come to us.”
The sophomore slugger added that even in a pressure-packed environment that the state tournament brings, the Mariners were determined to stay relaxed and play with a fun attitude.
“When the momentum’s with us and we’re just playing for fun, it’s easier to hit the ball,” she said.
Homer knocked out 22 base hits to Hutchison’s one. Four Mariners batters had three-hit days, including Annalynn Brown (3 for 3), Brianna Hetrick (3 for 4), Kaitlyn Johnson (3 for 3) and Zoe Adkins (3 for 4).
All that hitting was backed up by stellar pitching by Adkins and Brown, as the two combined to toss a one-hitter over the three frames. Adkins gave up a run and issued five walks with three strikeouts, and Brown pitched a scoreless inning with one strikeout. Bell said he put Brown in the game to ensure a mercy ruling after a mistake on offense kept the score at 10 after two innings.
Homer loaded the bases in the first inning before recording an out, and Johnson capitalized with a two-run single. Adkins added a run on a force-out and Chapman scored two more on a grounder to second that the Hutchison infielder bobbled for an error.
In the top of the second, Owen looped a single into left field to score two runs for an 8-0 game, and Godfrey later made her first impact on the game with a two-run double on a line drive to center field.
Hutchison scored its lone run of the game in the bottom of the second on an RBI ground-out by the pitcher, Reighley Dean, making for a 15-1 game.
In the top of the third, Homer added further damage with a two-run single by Godfrey, an RBI single by pinch-hitter Dellah Harris and a two-run double by Owen.
Bell said he hopes to see the big win translate to further success as every game counts from here on out.
“I think the mind-set is that nothing is lost,” he said. “We’ve learned a little about what we need to do to prepare ourselves better. We learned a little about what Ketchikan has, I assumed they were the toughest team in our (tournament).”
Bell said that in the game with Ketchikan, the devil was in the details.
“It was a number of little errors, dropped balls and miscues that we shouldn’t have had,” Bell said.
Hetrick hit 3 for 4 with two runs, while Johnson and Anderson both hit 2 for 4, with Anderson blasting a home run for three RBIs.
Brown went all six innings pitching for Homer, giving up 10 earned runs on 11 hits and five walks, with three strikeouts to go with it.
The Kings led 6-1 before Hetrick and Johnson got on with singles, and Anderson drove them home with a homer to slash the Ketchikan lead to 6-4.
In the top of the fourth, Hetrick tied it at 6 apiece with a double to right field, then Johnson put Homer ahead 7-6 with an RBI single.
However, a leadoff single by Kiara Hodges in the bottom of the fourth turned into a run on a double by Jhaelah Schultz that tied the game. The go-ahead run came in on a passed ball by Brown, then Shaelyn Mendoza pushed the lead to 10-7 on a two-run single.