Kenai, Soldotna baseball to face off for state title

The Kenai Central and Soldotna baseball teams will play for the Division II state title Saturday at 3 p.m. at Wasilla High School.

The Kardinals defeated Kodiak 14-1 in the semifinals to reach their first state final. The Stars defeated North Pole 8-3 to reach their second state final. Soldotna also defeated the Patriots in the semifinal last season before winning the first state title in school history.

“We feel good,” Kenai head coach Luke Oliver said as the SoHi-North Pole game was taking place. “We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play in the championship game.”

The Stars and Kardinals split two games in the regular season. Last Saturday, Kenai defeated Soldotna 14-1 in the third-place game of the Southcentral Conference tournament.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Soldotna head coach Ken Gibson said. “An all-peninsula final. That’s great.”

Gibson said the key to the game will be slowing down Kenai’s offense.

“Kenai’s just been hitting up a storm,” he said. “I just watched them play Kodiak and they were hitting everything.

“They hit everything last week when we played them. On our end, pitching is going to have to be our thing. We have good pitchers lined up. They have to pitch good games.”

Kenai 14, Kodiak 1

The Kardinals (13-6) were 0-3 against the Bears this season, but were able to get revenge.

“We felt like it would be a good game,” Oliver said. “In the previous games, we had quite a few errors.

“Kodiak’s a good team with good pitchers and they’re well-coached. Today we tightened up the errors and put the ball in play and it paid off for us.”

The relentless Kenai offense scored at least once in every inning.

The Kards had 11 hits and put constant pressure on the Kodiak pitching and defense, drawing nine walks and striking out just four times. The Bears ended up with five errors, and only six of Kenai’s runs were earned.

“We were putting the ball in play one through nine,” Oliver said. “Everybody didn’t get a hit, but they were all putting the ball in play.”

Kenai had a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the third when Oliver pulled Kalani Beddow with one out. Beddow gave up a run on two hits while walking five and striking out two.

Charlie Chamberlain came in and aced his relief appearance. He went 4 2-3 scoreless innings, giving up a hit while walking two and striking out four.

“Charlie’s a big leader,” Oliver said. “He keeps everybody calm. It worked out.”

Kenai had just one error and Oliver said a big point in the game came in the early innings, when Daniel Steffensen had a diving catch that saved two runs. Steffensen, who was 1 for 4 with a run, was named player of the game.

Owen Whicker led the Kenai offense from his leadoff spot, going 3 for 5 with two runs and an RBI.

“He’s fast,” Oliver said. “That’s why he leads off for us. He beat out a couple ground-ball hits. He was good on the bases today.”

Also for Kenai, Braden Smith scored three runs, Beddow had two runs and two RBIs, Gabe Joanis scored two runs and had three RBIs, and Jayden Sandahl had two RBIs.

Soldotna 8, North Pole 3

The Stars (14-8) blew open a tight game with two runs in the top of the sixth and three runs in the top of the seventh.

Most of the game was a pitchers duel between SoHi’s Derrick Jones and North Pole’s Connor Lanser.

Jones ended up winning, going all seven innings on 121 pitches. He gave up three runs — two earned — on four hits while walking two and striking out eight.

“He was fantastic,” Gibson said. “He had it working tonight.”

Lanser threw 122 pitches to get through 5 2-3 innings. He gave up five runs — three earned — on seven hits while walking three and striking out eight.

“The guys were good at the plate,” Gibson said. “They were very disciplined hitting up and down the order to get him out of there.

“He was a very good pitcher.”

After Lanser exited, the Patriots used three relievers, and the Stars got to Simeon Langer for three runs — two earned — on a hit in one-third of an inning.

North Pole led 1-0 after three innings, but the Stars went up 3-1 after the top of the fourth. The Patriots cut it to 3-2 in the bottom of the inning. The game stayed tight until the Stars were able to get to Lanser and into the bullpen.

Jones also helped himself at the plate, going 2 for 4 with two runs and an RBI. Gibson said Trenton Ohnemus got key hits, going 2 for 3 with a run and an RBI.

The coach also said Easton Hawkins was solid in the leadoff spot with a hit and a walk. Levi Mickelson had a pair of RBIs, while Andrew Pieh had two hits. Colby Sturman also scored a pair of runs.

Gibson said his team has been able to hit up and down the lineup at state, and also not make base-running errors. That has the Stars in the state title game after they made the tourney with an at-large berth after finishing out of the top three at the conference tourney.

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