The regular season did not do a great job separating the nine baseball teams in the Southcentral Conference.
The conference tournament, which will be held today, Friday and Saturday in Homer, will start to get the job done rather quickly.
“The first two games will set the tone for everybody,” said Soldotna coach Robb Quelland, looking to get back to state after missing out last season.
Win the first two games and a team is in the championship, or, in the case of No. 8 seed Kenai Central and No. 9 Houston, win three and be in the championship. Win the championship and get one of the conference’s two berths to the state tournament.
Even a loss in the championship means a next stop at the second-place game, when a win nets the other state berth.
But a first-round loss for No. 5 seed SoHi would mean four must-win games to make state, while a first-round loss for Kenai and No. 2 Homer would mean five must-win games.
“Win three in a row and you’re the champion,” said Homer coach Rich Sonnen, looking to get Homer a first state berth since 2009. “I think that’s probably everybody’s strategy.
“Nobody wants to take the long road. Everybody wants to win three in a row.”
Kodiak, Homer and Wasilla led the league with 6-2 records, but Kodiak lost to No. 7 seed Palmer and Homer lost to No. 6 seed Grace Christian to show just how up in the air the tournament is.
“I don’t believe there’s a single, dominant team that everyone’s fearing, as in years past,” Quelland said.
Homer opens up with Palmer at 1 p.m. at Homer High School. The Mariners defeated the Moose 9-7 on May 5.
“All of our games have been just one or two runs, it seems like,” Sonnen said. “A lot of things can make a difference in a one-run game.”
If the Mariners have to play a lot of games, Sonnen said he has great pitching depth. Some of those pitchers are Mose Hayes, Adam Brinster, Douglas Dean, Seth Adkins, Joe Ravin and Harrison Metz.
“Pitching and defense has helped us stay close in all of our games,” Sonnen said.
The coach added Landon Bunting and Spencer Warren need to keep getting key hits on offense.
The Stars open with the No. 4 seed Colony at 4 p.m. at Hornaday Park. Colony topped Soldotna 6-4 on April 27.
“It took us awhile to get our momentum going this season,” Quelland said. “There’s not been a game we’ve played this year that we’ve been out of. There’s quite a few we should have won.”
Quelland also likes his pitching depth with starters Logan Smith, Jeremy Kupferschmid and Jake Marcuson, and relievers Cody Quelland, Hunter Thompson and Brandon Crowder.
The coach also said he needs the rest of the order to support the powerful top four — Kupferschmid, Quelland, David Michael and Crowder.
No. 8 seed Kenai starts with No. 9 seed Houston at 10 a.m. at Homer High School. The Kards, who last went to state in 2012, picked up their lone conference win Friday by topping the Hawks 10-5.
Kardinals coach Luke Oliver said the key in that victory was limiting walks and errors. The same will hold true today.
Making state is a daunting task for the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds because they have an extra game to play, but Oliver said the team can’t worry about that.
“It’s just one game at a time,” he said. “The longer you can win the better off you’ll be with pitch counts and stuff.”
With so many outs to get as it is, Oliver said the team can’t afford to give other teams even more outs.
“They all have to step up a bit and eliminate errors more than they have in the regular season,” Oliver said. “They have to put together a string of games instead of just one.”