The mood in the Homer Mariners dugout was somber Saturday morning after a 9-1 loss to Ketchikan ended the Mariners’ season at the Division II state softball tournament at Cartee Fields in Anchorage, but the forecast is bright.
After a Friday loss to Sitka dropped Homer into the loser-out bracket in the double-elimination tournament, the Mariners were faced with the prospect of having to win out the rest of the way Saturday in order to break a 13-year team championship drought, but the Southeast once again proved to be a tough ticket and Homer finished in fourth place.
However, head coach Bill Bell believes the rest of the state is slowly catching the Southeast teams of Sitka, Ketchikan and Thunder Mountain.
“They’re beatable,” Bell said. “I think the idea of the myth itself is gone. This (Saturday game) was us helping them along tremendously.”
Against Ketchikan, the Mariners kept it close for much of the game, down 2-1 until the fourth inning. That’s when the things took a turn for the worse.
The Kings took advantage of several Homer slip-ups and mistakes to score five runs and stake out a commanding 7-1 advantage when it was all said and done.
“It was one of those wheels-fall-off sort of games,” Bell said. “Not the way we wanted to end the season.”
Bell’s optimism remained high, however, as the young Mariners team will be losing just one senior — only catcher Brianna Hetrick will not be returning — while young talent had the opportunity to gain experience and develop skills, most notably in freshmen pitcher Zoe Adkins and third baseman Kaylin Anderson, and sophomore slugger Grace Godfrey.
Bell also said in retrospect, the 2019 season as a whole was one to savor. The Mariners finished with 23 total wins between regular season and tournament games and also earned a third consecutive Northern Lights Conference championship banner.
The positive vibes still didn’t erase the sour taste of Saturday’s loss. Bell pinned it on bad decisions across the board.
“We needed to play well, we can’t give up that many unearned runs,” Bell said. “Lot of mistakes, coaches mistakes. Different things that (assistant coach) Hannah (Zook) and I could’ve done differently.”
Homer right-hander Annalynn Brown pitched the full game, which ended before five full innings were complete due to the run rule.
The fourth inning drama began with two runners on and Ketchikan’s Kiara Hodges at the dish. Hodges popped up for what should have been a routine out, but shortstop Kaitlyn Johnson couldn’t corral the catch and it dropped in to score a run for a 3-1 game. A few batters later, Hodges was able to score from third after a failed rundown between first and second base by the Mariners infield.
On the next at-bat, Dyllan Borer raked a two-run double past second base to push the lead to 6-1, and that was followed by another Homer error as a grounder by Shaelyn Mendoza reached Johnson, whose throw ended up past first to allow another run in.
The lone run for the Mariners came in the top of the third when Godfrey began a two-out rally with a double, then was followed by a single from Brown to put runners on the corners. Godfrey scored on a well-executed bunt by Hetrick to cut the Ketchikan lead to 2-1.
However, that would be all Homer could muster the rest of the day, even as the Mariners threatened a few times. In the top of the fifth, Homer had two on base with walks from Godfrey and Hetrick, but a line out by Johnson resulted in a double play to end the inning as Hetrick was caught at second on the throw in.
Earlier, both teams had chances to score taken away. Ketchikan turned a double play when a fly-out was thrown home to catch Johnson out at the plate, although Bell argued that the Kings should have been called for obstruction at the plate by the Ketchikan catcher.
However, no call was made and Johnson was ruled out to end the threat.