The three baseball teams from the Kenai Peninsula face a long road to state after losing first-round games Thursday at the Southcentral Conference tournament at Soldotna Little League fields.
Soldotna lost 5-4 to Wasilla, Homer lost 6-5 to Houston and Kenai lost 12-7 to Colony. In the other first-round game, Kodiak topped Palmer 15-2 in five innings.
In Thursday night’s semifinals, Wasilla topped Houston 11-7 and Colony beat Kodiak 8-1. The Warriors and Knights meet for the championship at 7 p.m. today.
The first-round losers now must win four straight games to try and earn second place in the tournament and a state berth.
The journey starts today when Soldotna plays Homer at 10 a.m. and Palmer plays Kenai at 10 a.m.
The winner of Soldotna and Homer plays Kodiak at 3 p.m., while the Palmer-Kenai winner plays Houston at 3 p.m.
The survivors of those two games then must win twice Saturday to take second place.
Wasilla 5, Soldotna 4
The Stars, the No. 4 seed out of the south, threw a scare into the Warriors, seeded first out of the north.
Wasilla grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second inning, but the game was tied at 2 after four innings. Calvin Hills and Max Conradi scored for SoHi in the second after both reached on errors. Hills and Conradi scored on a double from Mason Prior. Cooper Hanson also reached on an error in the fourth to score for Wasilla.
“Of the nine runs that were scored in the game, only a couple were earned,” SoHi coach George Stein said.
Wasilla then scored three times in the bottom of the fifth inning to take a 5-2 lead. The three runners that scored reached on walks or hit by pitches.
SoHi then mounted a big rally in the top of the seventh inning. After Klayton Justice and Tyler Covey, who each reached on errors, had scored on a Kenny Griffin single for a 5-4 game, the Stars had the bases loaded with two outs when Conradi stepped to the plate.
He lined a shot back to the pitcher, ending the game. If the ball gets through, the Stars would have tied the game and maybe taken the lead.
“I can’t be too upset because we were playing the top seed from the north,” Stein said. “We were able to make it a close game. It was good to see.”
Joey Becher and Klayton Justice pitched for the Stars, limiting the Warriors to six hits.
“I thought Joey pitched a really good game,” Stein said. “He went into the fifth inning.”
SoHi had four hits, with two coming from Griffin.
Colony 12, Kenai 7
Matt Palmer finished 4 for 4 with three home runs, four runs and four RBIs to lead the Knights, the No. 2 seed from the Northern Division, past the Kardinals, No. 3 from the south.
Palmer connected to center field in the first inning, to right field in the third inning and to left field in the fifth inning.
The outfield fence is only 300 feet from the plate in all the fields. Palmer said he knew his shot in the first was out, but wasn’t sure about the other two, which were fly balls that just carried over the fence.
Still, with one career home run coming into the game, the junior, who got into the weight room in the offseason to increase his power, wasn’t complaining.
“I was pleased with that because I’ve been working on taking the ball where it’s pitched,” Palmer said of hitting taters to each field.
Colony starter Ben Ross was dominant early in the game and carried a no-hitter and a 6-0 lead into the fifth inning.
Dalton McHugill, who finished 2 for 3 with two runs, also went yard in the first five innings to give Colony four round-trippers on the day.
But Kenai began to fight back in the fifth inning, when Ellery Steffensen had an infield single and Dallas Pierren followed by smashing a two-run home run to center.
“None of those would have been home runs in most ballparks — in any ballpark,” Kenai coach John Kennedy said. “Dallas was actually fooled on his, but he’s such a good hitter that he was able to hit it off his front foot.”
Colony jumped back to a 9-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth with three runs, but just one was earned because Kenai dropped two pop-ups in the inning.
“It’s a much different ballgame if we can catch fly balls,” Kennedy said. “That’s been our Achilles’ heel all year.”
In the top of the sixth, the Kards kept after a fatiguing Ross. Kenai loaded the bases with no outs on a walk and two hits, then Isaac Mese walked to score a run and Paul Steffensen doubled to score two more and make it 9-5.
Ross was taken out at that point, having pitched 5 1-3 innings and giving up five runs on five hits while walking five and striking out 11.
“I think he got tired and started to change his stuff and it messed up his mechanics,” Colony coach Jordan Chadwell said. “The first five innings he was really good.”
Logan Sanders came in for Ross and got out of the inning with no further damage.
But in the bottom of the sixth, fly balls came back to hurt the Kards again. With two outs and runners on first and second, Layne Cottingham hit a fly ball to center field that Isaac Mese couldn’t corral. The ball slipped over the wall for a four-base error.
The Kards tried to rally in the seventh as Sanders walked four and committed two errors, but the rally came up short.
In all, Colony pitchers walked nine and hit one.
“We can’t give teams that many opportunities,” Chadwell said.
Miles Jones started for Kenai and gave up five runs on eight hits in three innings. Freshman Zack Selinger then pitched one inning and gave up just a home run that was a fly ball that slipped over the fence.
“I’m excited by the way he pitched as a freshman in the region tournament,” Kennedy said.
Dallas Pierren pitched the final two innings and gave up four hits and six runs, only one earned.
Ross finished 2 for 3 with a run and an RBI, Sanders was 2 for 3 with two runs, and Cottingham scored three times for the Knights.
Sam Combs and Nate O’Lena each scored a pair of runs for the Kards.
Houston 6, Homer 5, 8 inn.
The Hawks, the No. 3 seed from the north, held on for an extra-inning victory over the Mariners, No. 2 from the south.
Houston led 5-3 entering the bottom of the seventh inning, but Greg Smith led off the inning with a home run for the Mariners, then Tommy Bowe followed with another tater to tie the game.
But Houston followed to mount the winning rally in the top of the eight inning against reliever Sheldon Hutt, with Cody Buntin scoring the winning run.
Homer took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Bowe was hit by a pitch and eventually scored, but Houston came back with two runs in the top of the third off starter Kyle Johnson.
In the fourth inning, Wylie Donich, who had two hits in the game, reached on a single and eventually scored to tie the game at 2.
In the top of the fifth, Houston grabbed a 4-2 lead before Bowe scored again after a double to make it 4-3 in the bottom of the frame.
Devin Elson, who was 3 for 4, homered to put the Hawks up 5-3 in the top of the seventh before Homer’s big comeback.
Kodiak 15, Palmer 2, 5 innings
The Bears, the top seed from the south, made quick work of the Moose, No. 4 from the north.
Kodiak scored six runs in the third and six runs in the fourth.
Myles Wilson scored three times for the Bears, while Jon LeVan, Aaron Polasky, Jacob Arnold and Sam Bennett each had two runs.