Homer starting pitcher Harrison Metz and the Soldotna baseball team both made history on the first day of the Division II state baseball tournament at Wasilla High School, but only the Stars ended up in the tournament semifinals.
Soldotna defeated Monroe Catholic 8-4 for the first state victory in the program’s history.
Homer lost to Kodiak 3-2 in eight innings, but Metz struck out 17 batters in seven innings before reaching 120 pitches, at which point the rules say he can finish with a batter but then must come out of the game.
According to Van Williams, Alaska Legion Baseball media director, 17 is the most strikeouts since Alaska high school and Legion baseball went to the pitch count in 2017.
This is the first year the Alaska School Activities Association broke baseball into two divisions. In the one-division format, the Stars went to state in 2008, 2011 and 2016, but went two-and-out each time.
“It’s a big monkey off our backs,” Soldotna coach Robb Quelland said. “We’ve had our ups and downs this year, but this team still has the energy and commitment.
“We take our hats off to the players and teams that came before us and helped us get this win. We’ve earned one win in seven tries and it’s pretty nice to have that off our back.”
Saturday, Soldotna lost 17-2 to Kodiak in the second-place game of the Southcentral Conference tournament. Atticus Gibson started that game for the Stars and lasted just 2 1-3 innings, giving up 13 hits and 13 runs — 12 earned.
Thursday, Gibson pitched all seven innings for the victory. He gave up seven hits and four runs — three earned — while walking three and striking out six.
“He’s been our guy this year, good, bad or indifferent,” Quelland said. “His record for the year doesn’t show how good he is because he’s faced the best teams time and time again.
“We wanted to get his confidence back on the mound after that Saturday game against Kodiak. He’s a great young man to come back after that.”
Quelland said SoHi’s defense was mostly solid, with a few miscues, as the teams went to the bottom of the sixth inning knotted at 3. The Stars got five runs in the inning to take command of the game.
“We had some timely hits and switched up and played small ball,” Quelland said. “We were taking pitches and we had three bunts in that inning.”
Soldotna was led at the plate by seniors Daltyn Deborski and Josh Pieh. Deborski was 2 for 3 with two runs, two RBIs and a home run, and Pieh was 2 for 3 with a run and RBI. Jacob Belger, Levi Mickelson, Evan Appelhans and Gavin Jones also had hits for the Stars.
Soldotna plays in the semifinal at 7 p.m. against Palmer, which won the Southcentral Conference tournament. The Moose defeated Grace Christian 12-1 in just five innings. Importantly, the Moose had to use Owen Hayes, one of their top pitchers, for just three innings in the game. Landon Guggenmos, Palmer’s other top pitcher, was not used in the game.
The Stars player Palmer once this season and lost 9-5 on May 13.
“Palmer or Grace, we’ve played them both and we feel confident,” Quelland said before he knew the outcome of the game. “We’ve got our pitching staff in order and we’ll be playing with confidence coming off this win.”
Kodiak 3, Homer 2
Metz pulled off his strikeout display against the runner-up from the Southcentral Conference, a league that has five of the eight teams in the state tournament.
“To do it against a team like Kodiak is pretty impressive,” Homer coach Rich Sonnen said.
Sonnen said Metz got through the Kodiak lineup once just using the fastball. Once Kodiak started catching up to the fastball, Metz started mixing in his curveball and kept rolling up the K’s.
Metz’s final line was seven innings pitched with four hits and two unearned runs while walking just one and striking out 17.
The Mariners had some luck against Kodiak starter Jace Crall, getting two runs — one earned — in two innings to take a 2-0 lead. Bears reliever Hunter Williams was then able to pitch 5 1-3 scoreless innings while giving up just two hits.
That gave the Bears the chance to score two runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to eventually send the game into extra innings.
After Homer went scoreless in the top of the eighth, Kodiak put runners on second and third with two outs against reliever Austin Ceccarelli. Metz made an error on a grounder to short to end the game.
“He felt so bad,” Sonnen said. “It’s gotta be hard. He was in the zone pitching. To shift gears and go to infield must be hard.”
Homer lost to Kodiak 15-2 and 10-2 to start the season in late April. Sonnen said it was quite an improvement to take the Bears to extra innings.
“I hope this gives them the confidence they’ve been lacking all season,” Sonnen said of his squad. “They know they can play with the No. 2 team in the region.
“Hopefully, the don’t feel deflated after losing today and really play well tomorrow.”
Today, the Mariners take on Petersburg at 10 a.m. for a spot in the fourth-place game. Petersburg lost 4-0 Thursday to North Pole. The Patriots and Bears play in the other semifinal at 4 p.m.
Saturday, the fourth-place game is at 10 a.m., the third-place game is at 12:30 p.m. and the championship is at 3 p.m.