The Soldotna Stars had a shot at picking up their first state tournament victory in program history, but that milestone will have to wait another year.
A day after dropping an early lead and losing the opening game of the weekend, SoHi lost 11-9 to Lathrop in a back-and-forth consolation bracket semifinal Friday morning, ending their season on the spot. Saturday, Wasilla would top Lathrop 15-5 for fourth place, while South beat Chugiak 3-1 for the title and Sitka topped Ketchikan 6-5 for third.
Malamutes freshman Chase Reed earned the win Friday by pitching three innings with just one earned run in relief, giving Lathrop one more game to play Saturday. Senior James Kardash also came in for 1 2-3 innings of hitless relief for Lathrop, giving up one run.
Senior outfielder Mason Prior led SoHi, going 2 for 2 with a run. Cody Quelland, Joey Becher, Brandon Crowder, Kolten Wilson and Jeremy Kupferschmid also had a hit each, with Becher recording a double.
“It was a heck of a season,” said Soldotna coach Robb Quelland. “This game here showed us the things we need to work on to get better and help get us back here.”
Mathew Daugherty started on the mound and went four innings, giving up five earned runs on eight hits and three walks, but struck out five.
Calvin Hills came on for two innings of relief and struck out three while giving up three hits and zero walks. Hills, a senior, said as disappointing as the Stars’ two-and-out performance was at the tournament, he was pleased to see the younger players work well together with the older, more experienced seniors, which helped the Stars make it to state.
“It was good seeing this young group of guys make it this far,” Hills said. “We all actually collaborate real well together, we’re like one big family.”
Hills was first up to bat in the top of the seventh inning, the final opportunity for Soldotna to make up a two-run deficit. Hills grounded out for the first out, while Cody Quelland was issued a walk and Kupferschmid blasted a full-count single to center field to give SoHi hope.
Unfortunately, Becher and Crowder both popped up to first and third base, respectively, to end the game.
SoHi took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Kolten Wilson reached first base on a Lathrop throwing error, which plated Crowder from second base.
Lathrop responded with a two-RBI single by Mason Wilken to take a 2-1 lead, but it didn’t last long.
Becher sent a bases-loaded double through the legs of shortstop Colin King to score Hills and Quelland and put the Stars back into the lead 3-2. David Michael then scored on a passed ball, Becher scored on a bases-loaded walk issued to Wilson, and Crowder scored on a fielder’s choice to push the lead to 6-2.
In the bottom of the frame, Lathrop came right back with an RBI triple from Kardash and a sac fly from Evan Wilken to close it back up to 6-4.
The Stars fired back with a fielder’s choice run from Mason Prior and a Quelland RBI single to make it 8-5.
However, the firepower began ebbing for SoHi, while the Malamutes continued to roll. In the bottom of the fifth, Lathrop scored twice to close the lead up to 8-7, then went ahead for the final time on a Mason Wilken blast down the right field line that plated two runs and left Wilken at third. Wilken ultimately reached home on a wild pitch to give Lathrop a 10-8 lead.
“I threw harder than usual,” Hills said about his late-innings pitching.
Becher scored in the sixth inning on a throw back to home plate that missed, but that would be all SoHi could muster in the end.
“We’ll miss it, and we’ll certainly miss the seniors,” Quelland said upon reflection. “This (state) trip was huge for the growth of the program. You can’t learn much by watching, so it was big for us.”