The 2017 softball season quietly came to an end for Soldotna and Homer on a hot Friday afternoon in Fairbanks.
SoHi routed Homer 18-3 in a Northern Lights Conference title rematch to start the day, but was shut out in a pair of state games to Thunder Mountain and Hutchison, losing with scores of 15-0 and 8-0, respectively.
Meanwhile, the loss to SoHi sent Homer tumbling to the second-chance bracket, where the Mariners lost 16-13 to North Pole.
SoHi head coach Kelli Knoebel, who helped guide the Stars to the state tournament for a second straight year, said the culmination of their 9-8 season gave the team time to reflect on the ups and the downs the year brought, while the SoHi seniors — Jazi Larrow, Ember Lohrke, Danielle Hills, Leah McCabe, Taylor Earll and Alicia McClelland — had a moment to reflect on their high school careers.
“You always want to see the kids grow, and I remember Ember, Jazi, Danielle and Leah came to me four years ago and had never played softball,” Knoebel said. “It’s just seeing them grow into young women, I’m happy to see them graduate and go on to do great things.”
Stressing the “four D’s” all year long — dedication, detemination, discipline and desire — allowed Knoebel to mold a team that was able to perservere through a Friday tripleheader of games, a total of 11 innings.
“It’s a tough road to hoe when you got to play a triple header,” Knoebel said.
Hills put her experience to use by pitching the Stars through all three games, a monstrous task considering the heat of the day and the quality of teams, which included the defending state champion Thunder Mountain Falcons and the Hutchison Hawks, which entered the state tourney with an unbeaten regular season record.
“The character and sportsmanship they showed was awesome,” Knoebel said, adding that her team showed up for Homer’s final game of the day to cheer.
“It’s state, you want your conference rivals to do well.”
Homer finished the season 16-10 overall, and head coach Bill Bell praised Knoebel’s Stars for showing support for their NLC rivals. Bell said the seniors on the team had to work with a big class of underclassmen, showing the freshmen the ropes of prep softball.
“I had no idea how our season was going to turn out with a bunch of seniors and freshman,” Bell said. “I was really impressed with how well we did.”
Homer’s senior class includes Malina Fellows, Mary Hana Bowe, Elsie Smith and Annali Metz, and Bell said after a few tears were shed, the group allowed themselves to relax and enjoy the remainder of the day together.
“The whole season has been one that these kids don’t give up on each other,” Bell said. “There was never a rollover moment for these kids.”
Soldotna 18, Homer 3
Friday began with a big win for SoHi over their conference opponents in three innings. SoHi beat Homer at last year’s state tournament to end the Mariners season, but Homer prevailed over SoHi in a double-elimination victory in last week’s NLC tournament.
Friday’s win advanced SoHi into a state quarterfinal clash with defending champions Thunder Mountain, while Homer was tossed into the second-chance bracket.
SoHi struck early and often, staking out a massive 14-0 lead after just one inning of work.
“We were able to string a lot of hits together,” said Knoebel. SoHi knocked out 11 base hits in the first inning alone while moving through their batting lineup twice.
“We came out and were stroking it and everyone was hitting well.”
Carlin Meyer and Jazi Larrow both hit 3 for 3, while Meyer had four RBIs and Larrow scored three runs. Darcy Blume went 2 for 2 with three RBIs and three runs, Ember Lohrke was 1 for 3 with three runs and two RBIs, and Taylor Earll knocked in two runs.
In the pitching circle, Hills was dominant in three innings of work, giving up three runs on two hits and seven walks, while striking out two.
“It was just plain ugly,” Bell said. “I think we made like 12 errors in that first inning. We had more errors in that inning than I think all year long, balls between legs, dropping flies.
“I think it got a little in their head.”
Homer committed five fielding errors on the day, while SoHi had just one.
Annalyn Brown got the start for Homer but lasted just one out, giving up three earned runs on four hits and two walks after 26 pitches. Brown left the game with SoHi up 8-0.
Metz came in and could not get an out, giving up four earned runs on three hits and two walks. Briana Hetrick went the rest of the way for Homer, giving up four runs (one earned) on four hits and two walks in 1 2-3 innings.
Metz, Hetrick and pinch-hitter Sam Moonin each had an RBI for Homer, while Smith, Fellows and Kaitlyn Johnson scored the Mariner’s only runs.
Thunder Mountain 15, Soldotna 0
After beating SoHi 18-7 in a state quarterfinal Thursday, the Falcons returned to blank the Stars on Friday.
After going up 1-0 early, Thunder Mountain scored 10 runs in the second inning to really gap SoHi, then tacked on four more in the third to mercy rule the Stars.
Blume recorded SoHi’s only base hit to keep the Falcons away from a no-hitter.
“I think we were a little too pumped up against Homer (earlier in the day),” Knoebel said. “For us, we were wanting to get back that championship game that we let slip in Homer, but we came out a little flat against Thunder Mountain.”
The loss dropped the Stars in a second-chance bracket matchup with Hutchison.
Knoebel said Hills went the distance in the pitching circle, a tough task facing a fresher and more experienced Falcons team.
“Danielle carried us on her back,” she said. “It was huge for her.”
Hutchison 8, Soldotna 0
The Hawks got the better of the Stars for a second straight day, beating the Stars in a second-chance bracket game to end SoHi’s season. Hutchison blasted SoHi 14-3 in Thursday’s pool-play action.
Hills once again pitched for SoHi, going the distance in five innings.
SoHi had all three base hits in the third inning, but could not bring a runner home as the team was shut out for the second time in a day.
Hutchison led 1-0 after one inning, but SoHi kept it that way after three frames.
“It was an awesome game to be honest,” Knoebel said.
Eventually, the Stars began to show their wear and Hutchison posted five runs in the fourth to go up 6-0 and scored twice more in the fifth.
North Pole 16, Homer 13
Homer’s season ended with another close game against the North Pole Patriots.
The Mariners walked off against North Pole in an 8-7 win Thursday, but could not repeat the trick Friday in a back-and-forth affair.
Bell said Thursday’s game, which saw Briana Hetrick knock in the winning run in walkoff style on a deep hit to left field, foreshadowed Friday’s contest.
“It was very good competition,” he said. “The North Pole shortstop said to Mary Hana (Bowe), ‘You guys just don’t want to go away, do you?’”
Fellows blasted a two-run homer for the Mariners, finishing the day with five RBIs. Homer also got three hits apiece from Smith and Hetrick.
Homer went up by four runs in the fifth innings, but North Pole came back with five in the bottom of the frame to take the lead, then added four more in the top of the seventh.
Homer committed nine errors to North Pole’s five.
Hetrick got the start for Homer in the pitching circle, giving up four runs (two earned) on four hits, but didn’t walk a batter and struck out two in three innings.
Amanda Norton threw 116 pitches in 6 1-3 innings for North Pole, and the Mariners got nine runs off her on 15 base hits and one walk.