The Soldotna baseball team celebrates winning the Division II state tournament Saturday, June 4, 2022, at Wasilla High School in Wasilla, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

The Soldotna baseball team celebrates winning the Division II state tournament Saturday, June 4, 2022, at Wasilla High School in Wasilla, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

SoHi baseball claims 1st state title in program history

Gibson dominates on mound, at plate

It didn’t look like the first state baseball title for Soldotna High School. It also didn’t look like the last.

The Stars enacted the mercy rule with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning, defeating Petersburg 14-4 in the Division II state title game Saturday at Wasilla High School.

Fittingly, Atticus Gibson had the double that scored Andrew Pieh in the fifth to end the game.

Gibson went all five innings on the mound to pick up the win. He gave up four runs — three earned — on seven hits while striking out four and walking none.

The senior also was 3 for 4 with two runs, three RBIs, two doubles and a triple. He was named SoHi’s player of the game by the Alaska School Activities Association.

Gibson set a calm and determined example on the mound and his team followed all the way to the postgame celebration. Players gathered around Gibson on the infield and patted him on the helmet, but there certainly was no wild dogpile befitting a team breaking through for a first title.

“This is a pretty good team,” Gibson said of the unit that finished 17-4. “Many of us have been playing together since we were little kids. We have the chemistry and it worked out pretty good.

“We also had a lot of confidence in some of the newer players that came in and did what they were supposed to do.”

Ken Gibson guided the team to a state title in his first year as head coach. Gibson was an assistant with the Stars and American Legion Post 20 Twins the past two years. He also has 10 years in with Soldotna Little League.

“This is a testament to our Soldotna Little League as well,” Gibson said. “The strength of our program comes from the guys that come out of that league to us.”

They’re not done coming.

Soldotna loses seniors Gibson, Jacob Belger, Dylan Davidhizer, Nate Mowery and Riley Johnson. As big as that loss will be, the program looks ready to reload.

“We had 18 kids on JV,” coach Gibson said. “There’s a very strong group of freshmen and they got to play because we had a full JV team.”

The Stars went to the 2008, 2011 and 2016 state tournaments and did not win a game. For 2021, ASAA split baseball into two classifications. SoHi won its first game at the 2021 Division II state tourney, then lost the next two to finish fifth.

This season, SoHi hit on the formula for Division II success, finishing 17-2 against that classification. Soldotna had senior stars it could rely on, then backed those seniors with depth.

That senior group started with Gibson, who made the state all-tournament team.

“Some of the guys always talk about it — when he’s out there pitching, they just have all kinds of confidence,” coach Gibson said. “They just see him pitch, the way he acts confident and steady, and they just feed off it.”

Pieh also made the state all-tournament team. After hitting a walkoff home run to defeat North Pole 9-8 in eight innings in Friday’s semifinal, he went 3 for 3 with four runs against Petersburg.

SoHi went down 6-0 to North Pole in the top of the first inning.

“Yesterday, the game didn’t start out the way we had hoped,” Pieh said. “But we had a lot of energy in that game, and I guess it transferred over to this game.”

Gibson faced the minimum in the first and second innings against Petersburg, while SoHi scored five in the first and three in the second to take control of the game.

A big reason for the fast start was Belger, who backstops on defense and starts rallies on offense.

“Our motto for today was no mercy,” Belger said. “Just go out there and take it all.”

Belger led off both the first and second innings, reaching on a single and walk. Both times, he stole second and third, eventually scoring on outs by Levi Mickelson.

Coach Gibson said Belger scores most of the time he gets on base, but that shouldn’t overshadow Belger’s value as a catcher.

The Stars had five stolen bases, while Petersburg had zero. The Vikings also had four wild pitches, while nothing got past Belger.

“It’s been huge to have Jacob back there,” coach Gibson said. “People don’t even try and steal on us, for the most part.

“There’s just not much opportunity. You saw this game. It doesn’t matter where the ball was, he stopped it right there. He keeps it in front of him and he just picks it up and he’s ready.”

Belger also had two defensive gems to end the fourth. He ranged to the backstop to catch a shallow pop-up, then sprinted up the third base line to catch another pop-up for the third out.

What makes the Stars so tough is the depth behind players like Gibson, Pieh and Belger. Davidhizer had his second no-hitter of the season Thursday at state, while Johnson held steady after a rough start on the mound Friday to give his team a chance to come back.

“There’s just no spot in the lineup where anybody’s getting a breather,” coach Gibson said. “These guys have been great all the way through.”

Also for the Stars, Gavin Jones was 2 for 2 with two runs and three RBIs, Johnson had two runs, Mowery was 2 for 2 with two runs and Derrick Jones had two RBIs.

Gibson also said the team has a great bench, with Sage Cruz, Evan Applehans and Mowery able to fill in depending on the pitcher. Then there was the freshman Trenton Ohnemus, who pitched three innings with the season on the line against North Pole and didn’t allow a run, hit or walk, while striking out five. Ohnemus made the state all-tourney team for his efforts.

Meanwhile, Petersburg listed just two subs on its lineup Saturday. The Vikings did score four in the top of the third to cut the gap to 8-4, but SoHi came back with five in the bottom of the fourth. Kieran Cabral was 2 for 3 for Petersburg, while Jack Engell was 2 for 3 with two RBIs.

“There’s not too many people that can point to depth like our depth,” coach Gibson said.

The coach said the credit is all with the players.

“We did everything we could to provide them ways to train and come out here and perform, and they put in the work,” he said. “They made this happen.”

Soldotna starting and winning pitcher Atticus Gibson delivers to Petersburg on Saturday, June 4, 2022, at the Division II state baseball tournament at Wasilla High School in Wasilla, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna starting and winning pitcher Atticus Gibson delivers to Petersburg on Saturday, June 4, 2022, at the Division II state baseball tournament at Wasilla High School in Wasilla, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

The Soldotna baseball team wins the 2022 Division II state baseball tournament Sunday, June 4, 2022, at Wasilla High School in Wasilla, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

The Soldotna baseball team wins the 2022 Division II state baseball tournament Sunday, June 4, 2022, at Wasilla High School in Wasilla, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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