Soldotna is making its first appearance at the state baseball tournament since 2016, while Homer is going for the first time since 2009.
But the tournament will allow the Stars and Mariners little time to make themselves comfortable.
Unlike some double-elimination baseball tournaments, just one loss at the Division II tournament at Wasilla High School means a team can’t win the title.
“I would be surprised if you don’t see everybody’s best pitching on the first day,” Soldotna coach Robb Quelland said. “You have to win on the first day to have a shot. There’s no chance of coming out of the loser’s bracket.”
Homer coach Rich Sonnen said managing the pitching staff will be different than at the Southcentral Conference tournament last weekend.
“At the region tournament, we had to make sure we had enough pitchers for five games,” Sonnen said. “Here, two or three games is all we get.”
This is the first year the Alaska School Activities Association has divided baseball into two divisions.
In the previous one-division format, Soldotna went to state in 2008, 2011 and 2016. Soldotna qualified this season by taking third at the Southcentral Conference tournament. The Stars have yet to win a game at the state tournament.
Homer made trips to state in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, notching a runner-up berth in 2005. The Mariners are an at-large berth to state.
Soldotna starts tournament play with Monroe Catholic at 10 a.m.
“We’ve got a little scouting report on them. They’re similar to a lot of our teams,” Quelland said, referring to the Southcentral Conference. “They have one or two good pitchers and the top of the lineup hits well. They like to run.”
Soldotna went 12-11 in the regular season, then 3-2 at the conference tournament. SoHi will be making its third trip to Valley to play at Wasilla.
Even though Quelland said half of his lineup is freshmen and sophomores playing their first season of high school baseball, the coach is hoping the 28 games of experience will be a difference.
Quelland said seniors Daltyn Deborski and Josh Pieh will be important to the team. The coach is happy the seniors get to experience state after having last season canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Quelland also said catcher Jacob Belger will be key because he controls the running game so well.
While Quelland was coy about naming his Thursday starter, Sonnen said Southcentral Conference MVP Harrison Metz will take the hill against Kodiak at 1 p.m.
Homer dropped its only two games against Kodiak this season — 15-2 on April 23 and 10-2 on April 24.
“Ever since we played them the first weekend of the season, when we hadn’t been out of the gym yet, we’ve been saying we’d like another shot at them,” Sonnen said. “I guess we’ve got it.
“We’ll see what happens. They’re very skilled and very good.”
Counting the Southcentral Conference tournament, where Kodiak finished second, Homer put up five wins this season.
“The boys are definitely excited,” Sonnen said. “It seems kind of strange to be going to state after we had such a rough season, but we’ll take it.”
Sonnen said a lot of players will be making their first appearance at state in any sport.
Metz, a veteran of the American Legion Twins program, will be no stranger to big moments in a baseball game. In June 2019, Metz recorded the last nine outs of a no-hitter for the Twins after starter Logan Smith, now a SoHi assistant, went down with a knee injury.
Sonnen said Austin Ceccarelli also has played a key role on the team all season, while some freshmen have stepped up to fill important roles on the team as well.
Division II state baseball tournament
at Wasilla High School
Game 1 — North Pole vs. Petersburg, 4 p.m.
Game 2 — Kodiak vs. Homer, 1 p.m.
Game 3 — Palmer vs. Grace Christian, 7 p.m.
Game 4 — Monroe Catholic vs. Soldotna, 10 a.m.
Game 5 — Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 4 p.m.
Game 6 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 7 p.m.
Game 7 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 10 a.m.
Game 8 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 loser, 1 p.m.
Fourth-sixth place — Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner, 10 a.m.
Third-fifth place — Game 5 loser vs. Game 6 loser, 12:30 p.m.
Championship — Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 3 p.m.