The Kenai Peninsula will not have a representative at the state baseball tournament after Soldotna dropped the second-place game 6-5 in eight innings to Colony on Saturday at the Southcentral Conference tournament at Hermon Brothers Field in Palmer.
Colony had lost Friday’s championship game 15-5 in five innings to Wasilla, which claimed a fourth straight tournament title. But the Knights came back Saturday to claim a state berth.
Kenai and Homer dropped out of the tournament Friday, Kenai with a 15-0 loss in five innings to Homer and Homer with a 4-2 loss to Soldotna.
The Stars, seeking their second straight state berth, had started their tournament playing just five innings in invoking the mercy rule on Houston, but then came a nine-inning game against Wasilla on Thursday, a seven-inning game against Homer on Friday, a 10-inning, 5-4 win against Kodiak on Saturday and eight more innings against Colony.
“That kid of sums up our tournament,” Soldotna coach Robb Quelland said. “That’s just unheard of. Odds are against you when you have to play that many games against quality competition.”
Soldotna led Colony 5-0 after two innings, but the Knights came back with two runs in the third inning and three runs in the sixth inning. Colony walked off in the eighth inning when Cooper Smith reached on a single and scored on a single by Zach Satterly.
Austin Asp took the loss, going 2 1-3 innings and giving up two hits and an earned run. He struck out one and didn’t walk a batter. Caleb Spence got the start and went five innings, giving up four runs — three earned — on five hits while walking one and striking out three. Jake Marcuson also gave up one run in relief.
Quelland said the team had just three starters returning from last season in Cody Quelland, Matthew Daugherty and Terence Slats. Spence also saw a lot of time last season.
“This was a tough task for a young team that lacked the depth and experience of some of the other teams,” Quelland said. “I just want to commend these boys for the way they came through.
“I don’t know how many other teams would have been in our shape after playing that many innings in that many days.”
On offense against the Knights, Daugherty was 2 for 4 with an RBI, while Spence, Jeremy Kupferschmid, David Michael and Joel Sisson all had a hit and a run. Sisson added two RBIs.
Soldotna got to the second-place game by outlasting Kodiak 5-4 on Saturday. Soldotna led 2-0 after five innings, but Kodiak went on top 4-2 after the top of the sixth. Soldotna then tied the game in the bottom of the sixth.
With one away in the bottom of the 10th, Sisson walked and moved to third on a single by Asp. The Stars then walked off on a Daugherty ground-out.
Marcuson got the start and went five innings, giving up three runs — two earned — on two hits while walking one and striking out one. Michael pitched two-thirds of an inning and gave up a run, while Asp kept the Bears scoreless over 4 1-3 innings, striking out two and giving up five hits.
The Stars got the win despite just five hits on offense. Sisson and Asp were both 2 for 3, while Slats scored two runs.
“We did not hit the ball today,” Quelland said. “I don’t know if it’s because we were tired, we’re young or there’s so much pressure on in other areas.”
The Stars lose Slats, Daugherty and Asp to graduation, but Quelland said his young team got valuable experience.
“We’re excited,” Quelland said. “We’ve got a lot of young players and great players to bring up next year.”
Soldotna 4, Homer 2
The Stars, the No. 2 seed from the south, used a three-run fifth inning to win the rubber match in the season series with the Mariners, No. 3 from the south, and stay alive in the tournament.
Both pitchers did exactly what was asked of them. Logan Smith pitched all seven innings for Soldotna, giving up two runs — one earned — on six hits while walking none and whiffing three.
“He was phenomenal on the mound,” Quelland said. “He was very efficient — two to one on strikes vs. balls.”
For Homer, Mose Hayes pitched six innings and yielded four runs — three earned — on two hits while walking three and striking out two.
The game was tied at 1 entering the fifth after each team scored in the fourth. For Homer, Doug Dean had reached on an error and scored on a grounder from Kyle Wells. For Homer, Quelland walked and scored on an error.
Free bases would haunt the Mariners in the fifth when Slats was hit by a pitch and scored, and Quelland was walked and scored on a single by Spence. Spence would score on an error.
Homer coach Rich Sonnen said a big turning point in the game was when his team left the bases loaded in the third inning.
Quelland said the Mariners are a young team with a bright future, so he’s happy to advance after taking a tough loss to Wasilla in Thursday’s semis.
“We didn’t play one of our greatest games,” Quelland said. “It is hardest to play after playing an emotional game the night before.”
Joe Ravin was 2 for 4 for Homer, while Homer’s Seth Adkins and SoHi’s Michael had doubles.
Sonnen said the loss was tough to swallow because the Mariners had enough pitching left for two potential games today.
“We were kind of peaking at the right time, but we’re still young and it looks good for the future,” said Sonnen, who will lose seniors Garrett Butcher and Woape Huffman.
Homer 15, Kenai 0, 5 inn.
The Mariners, the No. 3 seed from the south, dismissed the Kardinals, No. 1 from the south, from the tournament.
The Kardinals continued to struggle at the plate thanks to Butcher. He pitched all five innings and gave up three hits while striking out seven and walking three.
Meanwhile, Zack Selinger and Steven Norvelle could not slow down Homer’s bats, as every player had at least one hit.
Ravin and Butcher each had a double and a single for the Mariners, while Adkins was 2 for 3, Doug Dean was 2 for 3, Kyle Wells was 2 for 3 and Hayes added a double.
North Division Player of Year: Hank Boyer, Wasilla
South Division Player of Year: Paul Steffensen, Kenai
Coach of Year: Ken Ottinger, Wasilla
Cooper Smith, Colony; Garrett Butcher, Homer; Kendall Ruta, Houston; Paul Steffensen, Kenai; Gavin Petterson, Kenai; Skyler Hale, Palmer; Matthew Daugherty, Soldonta; Austin Asp, Soldotna; Cody Quelland, Soldotna; Hank Boyer, Wasilla; Kyle Graham, Wasilla; Balas Buckmaster, Wasilla.
Joe Ryan, Colony; Kolby Taylor, Houston; Isaac Smoldon, Houston; Zach Selinger, Kenai; Shawn Walton, Kodiak; Nevin Lee, Kodiak; Brady Shults, Palmer; Keagen Norman, Palmer; Caleb Spence, Soldotna; Ben Werner, Wasilla; Jacob Gilbert, Wasilla; James Arend, Wasilla; Taylon Ottinger, Wasilla.