The Grace Christian Grizzlies put an exclamation point on the end of their inaugural season of baseball with a 9-4 victory Friday evening at the Kenai Little League fields.
The Kenai Central Kardinals put a period on the end of their regular season with the loss, still looking for a solution to their recent struggles. After being no-hit by Soldotna ace Matthew Daugherty on Wednesday, the Kards were limited to three base hits Friday by the Grizzlies, a first-year team that finished 3-2-1 overall in 2017.
“I think we ran into a little better pitching here at the end of the season,” said Kenai head coach Steve Nimcheski, whose squad began the year 6-0 but finished 8-4 overall. “We had our chances, but we gave them a few runs.”
Grace got solid starting pitching from Jimmy McGovern, who shut out Kenai in the first two innings without giving up a hit, striking out two. McGovern’s brother, Josh, took over for the next three frames and gave up two earned runs on two hits and two walks, but retired five Kenai batters on strikeouts.
Tobin Karlberg finished the job with two dominant innings on the mound, striking out four and giving up one base hit.
Grace head coach Ted McGovern said beating Kenai to end the Grizzlies’ season — Grace Christian will not be competing in next weekend’s Southcentral Conference tournament — served as an exclamation point on a solid first year.
“We feel pretty fortunate and blessed to play ball this year,” McGovern said. “We’re thrilled to be doing it, everyone in the conference was encouraging and supportive of us.”
McGovern’s two sons not only held court on the mound, but also made moves from the plate. Jimmy McGovern led off the second inning with a solo home run over the right field wall to open the scoring and finished 3 for 4 with a pair of doubles and four RBIs as well, while Josh went 2 for 4.
Kenai starter Zack Selinger went five innings and gave up four earned runs on eight hits and one walk while striking out one. Steven Norvelle went 1 2-3 innings in relief, giving up two earned runs on four hits and three walks, and Steffensen got the final out for Grace on one pitch, a ground-out.
Grace outhit Kenai 12 to 3. Kenai got a hit each from Nick Beeson, Paul Steffensen and pinch hitter Jakeb O’Brien. Steffensen and O’Brien each recorded a double.
After the Grizzlies opened a 4-0 lead, Kenai finally got going in the bottom of the third with a one-out walk issued to senior Jacob Kilfoyle, who was relieved of baserunning duties by Knox Amend. Gavin Petterson reached on an error, then Beeson brought Amend in on a single to left field, closing the gap to 4-1.
Steffensen had the Kardinals’ biggest hit of the day with a two-run double to cut Grace’s lead to 4-3, but couldn’t get anything else before the end of the third.
A two-out single by Nelson Korshin scored a run for Grace in the top of the fourth, and the Grizzlies scored twice more in the fifth with an RBI double by Jimmy McGovern, who ultimately scored on a wild pitch by Selinger.
An error led to Selinger reaching base in the bottom of the fifth, which allowed Steffensen to score a run, but that would be all for the Kenai offense. A two-run double by McGovern in the sixth inning wrapped up the scoring.
Nimcheski said he was glad to get every senior on the team an at-bat, including a few players that hadn’t seen a varsity pitch all season. All of Kenai’s starting nine were seniors, a lineup that was composed of Gavin Petterson, Beeson, Steffensen, Selinger, Steven Norvelle, Ryan Johnson, Jaydn Johnson, Jonathan Delgado and Jacob Kilfoyle.