The Homer softball team quickly coalesced into a Northern Lights Conference champion this season.
Now, the Mariners face the even tougher task of breaking up the dominance of the Southeast Conference at the Division II state softball tournament at Cartee Fields in Anchorage from Thursday to Saturday.
Homer has been a dominant force in the Northern Lights Conference, making 20 state appearances in the last 21 years. The Mariners also have won all four conference tournaments since the event was created four years ago.
But the Southeast Conference has been nearly as dominant at the Division II state tournament. Southeast teams have taken the top two spots at state since 2013.
In 2011 and 2012, Homer broke that up with a pair of runner-up finishes, but the last time Southeast failed to win state was when Kodiak won in 2008. Homer’s lone title came in 2006.
Before worrying about state, though, Homer coach Bill Bell took a moment to appreciate what his team has done so far this season.
“It’s been a very interesting year,” Bell said. “Half the team is freshmen, most of whom have never played before. We have yet to have a practice where everybody is there at the same time.
“I’m really impressed we came through regions the way we did.”
In the championship game, Kodiak grabbed a 12-2 lead after four innings, but the Mariners were able to come back and claim an 18-17 victory.
Bell said not only had some of his players never thrown a softball before this season, but the team also lost a week due to a positive COVID-19 test for somebody in the program and lost a couple of juniors to injury.
“To turn into a credible ball team, I’m really impressed with them,” Bell said.
The coach said some players have had a huge role for the Mariners this season.
Grace Godfrey is the team’s batting champ and also plays a nice center field or catcher. Haylee Owen is a terror on the basepaths and gets on about six times in 10.
Hannah Hatfield fields the important shortstop position, while Delilah Harris has been important at first base and outfield.
Zoe Adkins has pitched all but one inning for Homer. Bell said Adkins is not flashy, but she’s effective. She struck out 115 in eight conference games.
Finally, Ariana Davis plays third base and Bell said Davis is close to Owen as a base runner.
Homer opens the tourney with pool play today to determine the bracket for Friday and Saturday.
The Mariners play North Pole at 10 a.m. and Juneau-Douglas at 5 p.m.
“North Pole is not much different than we are,” Bell said. “No matter where we end up, we’ll have to get through Southeast.”
Northern Lights Conference awards
Most Valuable Player — Leslie Spear, Kodiak.
Coach of the Year — Bill Bell, Homer; Brian Mitchell, Houston.
First team — Leslie Spear, Kodiak; Grace Godfrey, Homer; Zoe Adkins, Homer; Shanoah Spear, Kodiak; Camryn Frank, Palmer; Zaharah Wilshusen, Kenai; Aria Beams, Palmer; Hannah Hatfield, Homer; Brook Fischer, Soldotna.
Second team — Ashlyn Asp, Soldotna; Emily Bitler, Houston; Ashlyn Bolen, Kodiak; Carrie McQuillin, Palmer; Kyana Griskevich, Kenai; Cyana Medrano, Kodiak; Delilah Harris, Homer.
Honorable mention — Haylee Owen, Homer; Alison Narog, Kodiak.