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Saturday baseball: Soldotna topples Kenai for NLC title

The Soldotna baseball team defeated Kenai Central 2-1 on Saturday for the Northern Lights Conference championship in Kodiak.

The Stars (17-3 overall) are the two-time defending Division II state champs, but a conference title was one hole in the program’s history before Saturday. The Kardinals (12-3) also were battling for their first conference crown.

Both teams qualify for Division II state at Wasilla High School and are on opposite sides of the bracket, meaning a repeat of their clash in last season’s state final is a possibility. The Stars are 2-1 against Kenai this season.

Kenai opens Thursday at 12:30 p.m. against Petersburg, while the Stars face off against Kodiak at 3:30 p.m.

The championship was a duel between Soldotna pitcher Trenton Ohnemus and Kenai’s Braden Smith.

Ohnemus beat the Kards in the state championship game last year and also threw a no-hitter against Kenai this season.

He was up to the task again Saturday, going all seven innings and giving up the one run on six hits while walking one and striking out 16.

Smith nearly matched Ohnemus, going six innings and giving up two runs — one earned — on five hits while walking one and striking out eight.

SoHi, the top seed from the Southern Division, struck first in the third inning when Levi Mickelson tripled with one away and scored on a Jayden Stuyvesant grounder.

In the third, Ohnemus reached on a two-base error and went to third on a passed ball, scoring on a grounder by Michael Schilling.

In the sixth, Gabe Smith singled for Kenai, No. 2 out of the south, and advanced to second on an error. He would go to third on a passed ball and score on a sacrifice fly by Gabe Joanis.

Mickelson finished 2 for 2 for Soldotna, while both Gabe Smith and Gabe Joanis were 2 for 3 for Kenai.

Palmer defeated Kodiak 15-0 to lock up third place and the conference’s third guaranteed state berth. The Bears got one of the state’s three at-large berths.

Palmer had topped Houston 12-2 to reach the third-place game, while Kodiak defeated Grace Christian 8-2.

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