Soldotna pitcher Matthew Daugherty wasn’t thinking about beating rival Kenai Central on every pitch Wednesday at the Soldotna Little League fields. The senior wasn’t thinking about winning on senior night every time he toed the rubber, and he certainly wasn’t thinking about throwing a no-hitter.
He was thinking about his grandfather, Leon Merkes.
“I felt really good tonight,” Daugherty said. “It was the last time my grandpa will ever get to watch me play.
“Every time I went up to pitch, I thought of him.”
And what a forceful finale it was.
Daugherty no-hit the Kardinals in a 6-0 victory, recording 11 of the 21 Kenai outs via strikeout. Mixing a fastball and a slider with an occasional changeup, the only blemish keeping him from a perfect game came in the top of the sixth inning, when he walked No. 9 hitter Ryan Johnson.
The reason Merkes, and many peninsula baseball fans, have likely seen the last of Daugherty is because he will be leaving after the Southcentral Conference baseball tournament to play summer collegiate baseball for the Klamath Falls Gems in Oregon. That means no Post 20 Twins baseball for Daugherty.
“I’m going to be living with my brother,” Daugherty said of Mitchel. “It’s going to be pretty cool.”
The biggest moment of drama in the no-hitter came in the top of the seventh inning when Paul Steffensen, MVP of the state Legion tournament last summer, came to the plate. Before the at-bat, SoHi catcher Cody Quelland went to the mound.
After watching what the muscular Steffensen did to the Legion competition all last summer, Daugherty freely admits the shortstop is a scary guy to face.
“My plan was to intentionally walk him,” Daugherty said. “But I threw him a slider low and got him to upper-cut it to the outfield.”
Daugherty then struck out Nick Beeson to cue a very subdued celebration after the first solo no-hitter of his high school career. He had combined with Caleb Spence on a no-no last season.
“Those guys are my buddies,” Daugherty said of the Kards. “I felt bad.”
Daugherty’s effort washed away a three-game losing streak for the Stars, moving the squad to 5-3 in the league and 5-6 overall. Kenai falls to 7-3 in the league and overall.
He also provided a perfect final home game for fellow seniors Austin Asp and Terence Slats.
Soldotna coach Robb Quelland said after the Stars lost to Wasilla on Saturday that his squad had to win out to clinch the No. 1 seed. After the Stars lost to Homer on Monday, the Clarion reported the Kardinals had clinched the No. 1 seed.
But Quelland said the Stars can still get the No. 1 seed by winning today and Friday in Kodiak, then beating the Kardinals in a run differential tiebreaker. The two teams split the season series.
The coach said confidence is running high after Wednesday’s win. Not only did the Stars get a dominant pitching performance and not commit an error, but they also managed to get to Kenai pitcher Gavin Petterson for six runs, four of which were earned. Petterson yielded one walk while striking out three.
“Like I told the players, I wish I could be impressed but this is how we are supposed to play,” Quelland said. “Anything less shows what we need to work on.”
The three-game losing streak had been marked by offensive struggles, but Caleb Spence led Wednesday’s effort by going 2 for 3 with two runs scored and an RBI. Quelland said the key was the Stars struck out just three times, putting the ball in play most of the time.
“Gavin Petterson is one of the best pitchers in the state of Alaska,” Quelland said. “What a great pitcher’s duel. This is one people would pay to get in and watch.”
Kenai coach Steve Nimcheski said Petterson pitched well enough to win most games.
“I’ve never seen a game get won with no hits,” Nimcheski said. “We did not hit the baseball.
“At the same time, you have to tip your hat to their pitcher. He pitched a great game.”
The Kards close their season by hosting nonconference foe Grace Christian at 6 p.m. Friday for senior night.
“We wanted to beat Soldotna and vice versa,” Nimcheski said. “I think this game was more important to some of my players than regions. They are not happy with the split.