As the Soldotna and Kenai Central softball teams were dodging the rain showers Wednesday afternoon, Stars pitcher Danielle Hills was dodging the Kardinals bats.
Hills tossed a no-hitter Wednesday at the Soldotna Little League fields in a 16-4 Northern Lights Conference victory over Kenai Central. The right-handed ace controlled Kenai’s bats for four innings, striking out eight while giving up three earned runs on five walks and three hit batters.
“I couldn’t do it without my team,” Hills said before celebrating senior night with her teammates. “Being a pitcher, there’s a lot of pressure on you, and lots of pressure is lifted off of you when your team gets loud and is out there talking.”
Hills noted that the Stars tested out a new style of play earlier in the spring by keeping the dugout banter to a minimum, but the squad has returned to its boisterous ways in recent games.
“We don’t know anything but being loud,” Hills said. “We wanted everything to be disciplined and calm, and that’s just not us.”
Hills said after a four-hit outing against Homer that lasted 5 1-3 innings and resulted in a blister on her hand, Wednesday’s showing against Kenai was not going to be an easy one, but the team chemistry kept her cool under a few tough situations. SoHi head coach Kelli Knoebel said the team stresses a motto that consists of four D’s — dedication, desire, discipline and determination, and Wednesday’s performance showcased the desire that it takes to win.
“It was a good bounceback win for Danielle,” Knoebel said. “She showed a lot of resiliency and determination to get through it.”
The no-no was the second for a SoHi pitcher in just over a year, with Emily Jackson earning the most recent against Kodiak on April 29, 2016.
At 6-2 in conference play, SoHi now must wait until the NLC tournament begins in Homer on May 25, while Kenai, which ended its conference slate at 3-5, has one more game remaining on its schedule on Friday against Service.
Kenai had to regroup after losing starting pitcher Cierra King after just one inning. Kenai head coach John Manley said King suffered a leg muscle injury in the first inning and had to be moved in favor of reliever Savannah Jones. King ended up with three hits and four walks in her only inning of pitching, striking out two along the way.
“It’s tough because she has been pitching really well,” Manley said. “We were fighting uphill all the way. These guys are good.”
Jones gave up five earned runs on seven walks and one hit in one inning of relief, while Kassie Lindsley went an inning with five runs on two hits and five walks for Kenai.
Hills wasn’t perfect in her no-no. After retiring six of the first eight batters she saw, the senior righty opened the third inning by loading the bases on three consecutive walks, then forcing in three straight runs on a fourth walk and two hit batters. Kenai was able to cut SoHi’s lead to 8-3 on the errant pitching.
“Today was more of a mental game than anything else,” Knoebel said. “But her battling through it proved that she’s tough.”
SoHi built up an 8-0 lead by putting runners on base to start the game. The Stars led off with consecutive walks by Jazi Larrow and Amber McDonald, who both scored on RBI singles by Hills and Ember Lohrke. That was followed by an RBI ground-out by Taylor Earll and a run-scoring infield single by Carlin Meyer, who then scored from second base on a throwing error to push the Stars lead to 5-0 after one frame.
After a scoreless bottom half of the first inning, Hills knocked in another run for SoHi on a single, then scored herself on a wild pitch by Jones that made it 7-0 Stars. Meyer scored a second time on a Kenai error (a passed ball by Alyssa Stanton) that gave Soldotna an 8-0 lead.
However, Hills began to struggle in the top of the third by quickly loading the bases and forcing in three straight runs on a walk and two hit batters, but got a big hand on a double play when Kenai’s Jenna Helminski lined out to second baseman Taylor Earll, who tossed the ball to first baseman Tara Lynn Frates for the second force out.