A piercing outfield wind kept the bats alive Thursday at the Soldotna Little League fields, but when it came down to crunch time, Soldotna senior right hander Calvin Hills braved the hitting and the winds to seal up another victory.
Hills closed with a strong 2 2-3 innings of relief pitching to send SoHi to a 14-7 Southcentral Conference victory over Homer. The win kept alive SoHi’s undefeated season at 4-0 overall, all wins against Homer and Kenai. The Mariners dropped to 2-2 in the conference and 2-3 overall.
On a day when the Mariners and Stars combined for 21 runs and 18 hits — six by Homer and 12 by Soldotna — the task of keeping a team in check from the mound was daunting.
“(The wind) put a lot of break on the ball, but a little too much break, so I couldn’t really throw a breaking ball,” Hills said. “I just had to throw a fastball.”
Hills struck out two while giving up one hit in relief. In each of the final two frames, the Homer offense went down in order, thanks to a few stellar fielding plays. Junior second baseman Terrance Slats ended the game with a slick turnaround throw to first baseman Kenny Griffin for the last out.
“I knew I could trust my defense,” Hills said. “They got the outs we needed.”
The cold wind that blew in from the backstop contributed to two booming home runs that cleared the center field wall. The second of the two came courtesy of SoHi catcher Kenny Griffin, who took the ball on a ride in the bottom of the fourth inning to break open a close game. The two-run homer left the Stars leading 8-5.
After Homer closed the lead back up to 9-7 in the top of the fifth, SoHi responded with five runs in the bottom of the inning to open the gap once more, starting with a RBI ground-rule double by Joey Becher. The pitching ace ended up hitting 3 for 3 with a pair of doubles and two RBI.
“It was a good team win,” said Soldotna coach Robb Quelland. “With the cast of characters we have playing on this team, we’re going to have to play team baseball. We’re hitting pretty much one through nine.”
Quelland said the team leans on Hills as a reliable relief pitcher.
“He was stellar,” he said. “They need a confident pitcher to come in and shut it down.”
Homer led early with a 3-0 lead by the top of the third frame. Woape Huffman scored on an error and Michael Swoboda launched a two-out RBI double to center field in the top of the second, then Garrett Butcher tacked on a two-out home run that cleared the center field fence in the third.
Finally, after two scoreless frames, the Soldotna offense got going with five runs to take the lead. A fielders choice hit by Kenny Griffin brought in two runs and an RBI single by Becher tied the game. Kolton Wilson batted in the go-ahead run on an error that scored Becher, which put SoHi ahead 4-3. Mason Prior capped the inning with a double to center field that scored Wilson.
The Mariners tied the game at 5-all in the top of the fourth, starting with an RBI double by Swoboda and a single by Greg Smith on the first pitch of the game by SoHi’s Brandon Crowder. Swoboda led Homer with a 3-for-4 day at the plate, all doubles, and four RBI.
In the bottom of the inning, Cody Quelland brought in the go-ahead run for good with a hit to Homer shortstop Seth Adkins, who fumbled the throw for the error. That was quickly followed by Griffin’s homer.