The Kodiak Bears rallied to beat Kenai Central softball on a wild walk-off Thursday at Steve Shearer Memorial Ballpark in Kenai, scoring the last two runs on a pair of Kenai errors to escape with a 9-8 win in five innings.
The win capped a doubleheader sweep after Kodiak took the first game 14-4 in four innings. Playing in their first games of the year, the Kardinals fell to 0-2 in Northern Lights Conference play.
Despite the late drama, however, Kenai head coach John Manley walked away optimistic about his program.
“This team got much better as the day went along,” Manley said. “We were frozen in the first game and they jumped on us.
“But I thought they played well.”
Kenai led nearly the whole way in Game 2, entering the bottom of the fifth inning with an 8-7 edge over Kodiak, but Kards starter Savannah Jones walked the first two batters. With no outs, Kodiak’s Ila Abad laid down a bunt to move the runners, but the throw by Jones to first went astray, leading to one run scoring to tie the game. The relay to third to catch Kodiak’s Morgan Yatsik also went wide, allowing Yatsik to score the winning run.
Both teams’ starting pitchers went the distance in both games. Kenai senior Savannah Jones struck out seven but walked nine and had eight hits in the first game, then gave up four hits and six walks while striking out three in the second.
“It’s the best I’ve seen her pitch since I’ve been here,” the second-year Kenai coach said.
Kodiak’s Katie Banks was tagged with three hits and nine walks with seven strikeouts in the first, then returned for the second game to whiff eight and walk 13 with three hits.
Kodiak head coach Tom Bolen said the original plan was to have Banks pitch the first game and Leslie Spear the second, but Spear went down with a concerning leg injury after slipping on home plate in the first game, so Banks was tasked with the doubleheader sweep in the pitching circle.
“I’m glad she could stay composed,” Bolen said. “When the going gets tough, she keeps going.”
Banks also showed composure at the plate, hitting 2 for 3 with an RBI.
While Banks struggled with her command, as 13 walks attests, she saved her best stuff for when it counted most. The Kodiak ace retired the side in the top of the fifth with her team trailing by one, which proved to be huge when Kodiak rallied to win it in the bottom of the frame.
“I went out and talked to her and said this is (Kenai’s) last three outs,” Bolen said. “I told her to stay calm and motivated and pitch your heart out.”
Prior to the late theatrics, the Kardinals took an early 4-0 lead, then reached leads of 5-1 and 8-5 before the late collapse. A two-run grounder from Leinani Rapoza put Kenai up 2-0 in the first inning, and consecutive bases-loaded walks issued to Rapoza and Kiera Duby with two outs in the second frame pushed the lead to 4-0.
Kodiak got one back with a wild pitch that brought Yatsik home in the bottom of the second, but Kenai answered in the top of the third with an RBI groundout from Alyssa Stanton to make it 5-1.
The Kodiak bats finally got going in the bottom of the third, starting with a pair of leadoff walks that came in to score on a single by Banks. Cameron Bolen scored on a missed catch by Kenai first baseman Lexi Reis, then Banks came around on a dropped popup by Mekia Bushell to cut Kenai’s lead to 5-4. The game was then tied on a pass ball.
Kenai retook the lead in the fourth with a bases-loaded walk, then pushed the lead to 8-5 with a two-run single by Reis that scooted through the gap to center field.