It may not have been the prettiest game, but the Soldotna Stars pulled out a gritty 19-11 Northern Lights Conference win over Kenai Central on Friday evening at Steve Shearer Memorial Ball Park in Kenai.
The Stars moved to 3-4 in NLC play this year and 4-5 overall, while the loss dropped Kenai to 1-6 and 1-9 overall.
Soldotna is 3-0 against Kenai this year, but the first two matchups finished in lopsided wins for the Stars — an 18-5 four-inning affair on April 25 and most recently, a 22-6 assault in three innings just 48 hours earlier.
That’s what made Friday’s meeting so surprising.
“This was a classic Kenai-SoHi battle,” Knoebel said. “Nothing is expected when you play the same team two times in three days.”
SoHi’s bats came alive in the late innings and the Stars also capitalized on a few mistakes by Kenai to distance themselves after trailing after four innings.
“The best thing I’m proud of is how these kids fought, the way they had their character, held their heads high,” Knoebel said. “There were some moments today that were tough on us in multiple facets of the game, and there’s nothing I could be prouder of than how they fought for themselves, for me, and how they represented themselves in the end.”
Kenai head coach John Manley said after Wednesday’s blowout loss to the same team, he stressed to the team that all it would take to compete with the Kards’ crosstown rivals is a few small changes.
“I told them, it’s just a couple of things in the game, and it isn’t a lot,” Manley said. “Just a couple little things you’ve got to do better … we finally got some hits mixed in there today. I think the difference in that other game was they hit, and we didn’t, and tonight we finally got some hits.”
Manley said infielder Leinani Rapoza and catcher Kylan Lakshas were missing, which led to some defensive changes.
Both starting pitchers went the distance in the seven-inning game. Kaylee Lauritsen got the start for Kenai and gave up 13 hits and eight walks with one strikeout, while SoHi’s Casey Earll whiffed seven, giving up eight hits and 13 walks.
Earll also hit 2 for 4 from the plate, and said the team had to dig deep to pull out the victory.
“Our coaches taught us to win the battle and fight, no matter what,” Earll said. “Once we got in that mode of we’ve got to fight for what we want, it was let’s do this, we’ve got this.
“I think we connected as a family more than a team at that moment.”
The offenses of both teams ran rampant, highlighted by two very different home runs by the Stars. Ashlyn Asp ripped a two-run blast over the left-field fence in the second inning, and was later followed by a wild inside-the-park home run in the seventh inning by Casey Card.
SoHi took an early 4-0 lead, but Kenai answered with five runs in the bottom of the first. The first three batters reached to load the bases and Zaharah Wilshusen sent a blooper to center field for a bases-clearing triple. Wilshusen then tied the game on a steal of home plate when SoHi catcher Card threw for an attempted steal at second.
Abby Every then scored on a wild pitch to put Kenai ahead 5-4.
SoHi came back with five runs in the second, capped by a two-run shot by Asp, to go back ahead 9-5.
SoHi loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the third, but Kenai miraculously escaped the jam as Lauritsen retired the top of SoHi’s order with three consecutive flyouts.
The momentum continued for Kenai in the bottom of the third as the Kards closed the gap to 9-8 with an RBI single by Lauritsen and two bases-loaded walks drawn by Nereid Phillips and Lexi Reis.
Kenai then took a 10-9 lead in the fourth on an RBI triple lined into center field by Andie Galloway, who then scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch by Earll.
“I feel like we weren’t in it in the beginning,” Earll explained. “After the win the other day, we were like, we got this, it’s simple. But we don’t realize how important it is for us to be in the game 24/7, and once we hit that point, we were on it.”
SoHi rallied once more in the top of the fifth, loading the bases for Bailey Berger, who came through with a ground-ball force-out that scored two runs for an 11-10 Stars lead. SoHi added three more to take a 14-10 lead after the frame was over.
Card’s inside-the-park homer in the seventh pushed the lead to nine runs, and was made possible when her shot bounced into deep center field, giving her enough time to make it around as two Kenai outfielders tried to grab it.
Estrella Slats led Soldotna’s bats by hitting 3 for 4 with a walk, while Card finished 2 for 5.
Every had the best hitting day for Kenai, going 3 for 3 with two walks, while Galloway hit 2 for 4 with a walk, Phillips drew two walks and Lauritsen ended 1 for 2 with a walk.
Homer 16, Kenai 0, 3 innings
The host Mariners finished their regular season in dominant fashion, improving to 6-2 in the Northern Lights Conference and 17-9 overall. Kenai drops to 1-7 and 1-10.
Annalynn Brown pitched a no-hitter for Homer, striking out four and walking one. Kaylee Lauritsen got the call for Kenai, going 2 2-3 innings and giving up 14 hits and 16 runs — 14 earned. Lauritsen struck out one and walked three.
Grace Godfrey was 4 for 4 with three runs and two RBIs for Homer, while Brown was 2 for 3, Brianna Hetrick was 2 for 2 with three RBIs, Kaitlyn Johnson was 2 for 3 with two runs, Haylee Owen scored three runs, Zoe Adkins was 2 for 3 with two runs and two RBIs, and Hannah Hatfield had two runs.