Prior’s walk-off home run lifts Soldotna baseball over Homer

In the top of the seventh inning Tuesday, the Soldotna baseball team was stunned by an error on an infield-fly-rule out that allowed Homer to tie the game at the Soldotna Little League fields.

But in the bottom of the seventh, the Stars were at the complete opposite end of the emotional spectrum when junior Mason Prior belted a walk-off, two-run homer to lift SoHi to a 9-7 Northern Lights Conference victory.

The Stars have now won three straight after starting the season with three straight losses. The Mariners are 3-4 in the NLC and 4-5 overall.

“From day one, we’ve come together so much as a team,” SoHi coach Robb Quelland said. “It’s amazing how much we’ve grown with three weeks of games.”

That growth was on display Tuesday, when the Stars bounced back from a tough sequence of events in the top of the seventh.

With one out and runners on first and second, Brandon Beachy lifted a fly ball to third base that was ruled an out due to the infield fly rule. But things got confusing when third baseman Tyler Covey allowed the ball to drop.

Pitcher Calvin Hills picked up the ball and threw to first to try and double up the runner, but the throw was wild and Michael Swaboda came around from second to tie the game.

Quelland said that thanks to the American Legion program, the Stars have a team full of players with a lot of games under their belts. He said that showed in how the team reacted.

“After that error, we could have went in a different direction but we didn’t,” he said.

With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Joey Becher reached on an error and was removed for pinch runner Matt Daugherty. Prior then worked the count to 2-0 on J.J. Sonnen.

“He threw an inside fastball and I took it for a ride,” Prior said.

It was the first home run of Prior’s career, so he was taking no chances as he bolted down the basepaths.

“I hit it as hard as I could and in case it stayed in play I ran as hard as I could,” he said. “It feels good to get a win against Homer. They beat us pretty good at Homer last week, but we came back and beat them at home.”

Despite finishing with the individual flourish, the victory was a team effort for the Stars, as eight different players scored runs and every single player reached base in some fashion.

Tyler Covey was 2 for 4 with a run and an RBI, while Calvin Hills and Trayton Bird had a hit and a run, and Becher had a hit and an RBI.

Justice Miller got the start for the Stars and went five innings, giving up six hits and six runs — five earned — while walking two and striking out one.

Homer stole six bases in the game, and the running game was effective early as the Mariners had a 4-0 lead after the top of the second.

“We’ve been trying to get our running game going this year,” Homer coach Rich Sonnen said.

The Stars battled back in the bottom of the second when starter Kyle Johnson walked four, leading to three runs. Johnson worked five innings, giving up five hits and seven earned runs while walking six and striking out five.

“In the second inning, he had a few walks that cost us, but other than that he did good,” Sonnen said.

Miller held the Mariners down for a few innings as Trayton Bird doubled and scored in the third inning to tie the game, and Soldotna tacked on three more in the fourth for a 7-4 lead.

But Homer battled back in the fifth when Greg Smith started the inning by reaching on an error, then scoring on a triple by Swaboda. Swaboda made it 7-6 by scoring on a Wiley Donich grounder.

SoHi reliever Hills was shaking off a tough outing in his last appearance with two solid innings of relief when the infield fly struck, buy Prior was right there to pick up his teammate.

“We just have a good team mind-set,” Prior said. “We come each day and work hard in practice, and it’s going really well.”

Swaboda finished 2 for 3 with two runs and an RBI for the Mariners, while Donich was 2 for 4 with two RBIs and Smith had two runs and an RBI. Johnson and Evan Boyer each had a hit and a run for the Mariners.

The SoHi varsity hosts Wasilla at 7 p.m. Friday and Colony at 2 p.m. Saturday.

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