He pitched. He ripped two home runs that clipped the trees beyond the outfield fence. He played shortstop. He stole home to give his team a walk-off win in extra innings.
Kenai Central senior Paul Steffensen proved he can do everything on the baseball diamond.
Steffensen led the Kardinals to a wild, 13-12 Southcentral Conference victory in eight innings over Kodiak on Wednesday at the Kenai Little League fields. The Kards move to 4-0 in the league and overall, while Kodiak is 1-2 in the league and overall. The same two teams play Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Little League fields.
The game swung back and forth all night, with Kenai leading 6-4 after three innings, Kodiak leading 11-6 after five and a half innings, the Kardinals tying the game with five runs in the bottom of the sixth, the Bears taking a 12-11 lead after the top of the eighth and Kenai finally coming out on top.
“It was a great game, especially for a high school game,” Kodiak coach Cliff Anderson said. “I’m a coach, but I’m a fan also. When two teams play like that, it’s fun to watch.”
With one away in the bottom of the eighth, Nick Beeson, who finished 2 for 3 with three runs and two RBIs, started the rally by getting drilled in the ribs by Kodiak reliever Seth Rockenbach.
The sting spurred Beeson to quickly steal second and third, then Steffensen tied the game with a looping double down the right-field line. Anderson then intentionally walked Zach Selinger, but Steffensen moved to third on a steal before Ryan Johnson struck out for the second out of the inning.
Even when Steffensen was on second, Kenai coach Steve Nimcheski said his assistant coaches were scrutinizing Rockenbach’s move to home. They knew he was a lefty and thought that Steffensen would have a good chance of dramatically swiping the game.
“I gave Paul a little nod and a wink,” Nimcheski said. “Paul’s fast. He did the rest.”
Anderson said his team is made up of mostly sophomores. While he was happy with the way they battled the whole night, he said that inexperience showed on the last play when Steffensen was able to get that bag off of Rockenbach, a sophomore.
The pilfered sack served as an exclamation point on a huge night for Steffensen. He finished 3 for 4 with two home runs, four runs and five RBIs. He also served as the starting pitcher, going four innings and giving up four runs on six hits.
The Kardinals rode the power of Steffensen and Selinger, who was 2 for 4 with two runs, two home runs and four RBIs, to the 6-4 lead after three innings. In the first inning, Steffensen had a two-run shot and Selinger followed with a solo dinger. In the second inning, Steffensen again blasted a two-run bomb.
“I’m surprised I had to wait four games to see them hit a couple,” Nimcheski said. “They’ve both been working hard in the gym, spending hours on their swing. They both probably took 100 swings on the tee before we came over here.”
But after that, Kodiak starter Nevin Lee, who gave up 11 runs in seven innings, would keep the Kards off the board in the third, fourth and fifth innings to let his team get back in the game.
“He did a good job,” Anderson said of his starter. “I think the wind blew out three of those home runs. I don’t think they would have been home runs in most ballparks.”
Kodiak got to Kenai reliever Steven Norvelle for eight runs — six earned — in three innings and had an 11-6 leading heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. But with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Beeson had a two-RBI triple, then after Steffensen was intentionally walked, Selinger ripped a three-run home run to tie the game at 11.
“I’m confident my seniors have the ability to come up with runs when we need them,” Nimcheski said.
Kodiak grabbed the lead in the top of the eighth when Lee laid down a sacrifice to score Scott Larionoff, but reliever Selinger didn’t allow any more damage to set up the big rally.
Luke James finished 3 for 5 with two runs for Kodiak, while Rockenbach was 2 for 3 with four runs, Louie Rocheleau was 2 for 4 with a run, and Larionoff scored two runs.
Kenai was missing two starters in the game, and Nimcheski said Knox Amend and Sam Berry did a great job filling in. Amend was 2 for 3 with two runs, while Nimcheski said Berry did a good job pushing Lee deep in counts and piling up his pitch count.