Soldotna defeated Kenai Central 17-2 in five innings Saturday at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai to take second place and the final state berth at the Southcentral Conference tournament.
The Stars reach state for the third time, with the last berth coming in 2011. They also are the first Kenai Peninsula team to make state since 2012.
“It was our big goal,” said SoHi senior Calvin Hills, who was 2 for 3 with three runs. “The first or second seed, it doesn’t matter.
“We just wanted to get there.”
Soldotna is the second seed out of the Southcentral Conference after a 5-0 loss to Wasilla in Friday’s championship.
The Warriors and Stars were the class of the conference all year, with Wasilla finishing unbeaten and SoHi’s only two losses coming to the Warriors.
Add to that the fact that Kenai was playing a fourth game in two days, and SoHi was able to run away from its rival.
“I’m proud of these young men,” Soldotna coach Robb Quelland said. “They had a couple choices. They could have come out down, or they could come out and play Soldotna baseball.”
The Kardinals trailed 2-1 after three innings, but after that Kenai pitcher Connor Jones reached his innings limit for the tournament.
Kenai coach John Kennedy had just two other seasoned pitchers, and both were done for the tourney as well.
Freshman Jacob Keels entered a varsity game for just the third time in his career, and second time of the day.
SoHi pounced on him for nine runs — eight earned — in an inning.
“Soldotna likes to create chaos,” Kennedy said. “For a young man like him, it’s tough to come into the game where so much is going on.”
Steven Norvelle then gave up six runs — two earned — in an inning for the Kards.
Meanwhile, Caleb Spence of the deep Soldotna staff was cruising. He pitched four innings and gave up four hits and a run while walking none and striking out three.
“He’s just unflappable,” Quelland said. “Whether it’s a championship game or a scrimmage game, it’s the same thing. He gives 100 percent every time.”
Hills pitched the final inning, giving up a run on a hit while punching out one.
On offense for the Stars, Cody Quelland had four runs and two RBIs, David Michael had two RBIs, Jake Marcuson was 2 for 2 with a run and two RBIs, Brandon Crowder scored a pair of runs and Spence had a hit, run and two RBIs in one plate appearance.
Paul Steffensen was 2 for 3 with two runs for the Kards, while Jakeb O’Brien and Gavin Petterson had the RBIs.
Kennedy, who said he will have to give up the head coaching position at Kenai in order to focus on being general manager of the Peninsula Oilers, said the tournament was a great way to go out.
He said the six teams behind Wasilla and Soldotna were all very comparable, and the Kardinals won the battle of those six teams.
“No team has improved as much as this one,” he said. “For us to win three games in two days — wow. Amazing.”
The Stars will begin play at state Thursday in Anchorage.
“The teams up there are tough, but I think we’ll do pretty well,” Hills said. “We have the talent to do it.”
Kenai 8, Colony 7
The Kardinals avenged a first-day, 6-2 loss to the Knights in the second-place semifinals Saturday morning at Seymour Park.
Kennedy said Steffensen led a sixth-inning rally as the Kards overcame a 7-6 deficit in the sixth inning.
Norvelle, Sam Combs and Keels pitched in the first inning as the Kards gave up five runs. But Kenai came right back in the bottom of the first to score four.
Petterson and Steffensen then each threw three innings to allow the Kards to complete the comeback.
Southcentral Conference Awards
Southern Division MVP — Joey Becher, Soldotna.
Northern Division MVP — Nolan Monaghan and Jeffrey Forster, Wasilla.
Coach of the Year — Robb Quelland, Soldotna.
First team — Cooper McLaughlin, Colony; Michael Swoboda, Homer; Nolan Monaghan, Wasilla; Isaac Smolden, Houston; Gavin Petterson, Kenai; Kenny Griffin, Soldotna; Jarred Yanez, Palmer; Hank Boyer, Wasilla; Sam Bennett, Kodiak; Joey Becher, Soldotna; Paul Steffensen, Kenai; Jeffrey Forster, Wasilla.
Second team — Cooper Smith, Colony; Greg Smith, Homer; Cody Grogan, Palmer; Calvin Hills, Soldotna; Colby Taylor, Houston; Ryan Perkins, Wasilla; Shaun Walton, Kodiak; Garrett Butcher, Homer; Mathew Daugherty, Soldotna; Kolton Ketchum, Colony; Cody Quelland, Soldotna; Cole Doss, Colony; Koby Burns, Wasilla.