The heavyweight matchup in Friday’s Southcentral Conference baseball clash featured Kenai Central’s superlative start to the season pitted against Wasilla’s hot arm.
In the end, the Warriors won out in a 10-5 victory over the hometown Kardinals at the Kenai Little League Fields.
After headlining the prep baseball season with a perfect game earlier in the spring, Wasilla senior right-hander Hank Boyer tamed the explosive Kenai offense with five innings of stout pitching, striking out seven while giving up seven hits and just three walks.
“It’s the same thing we get from him every day,” said Wasilla head coach Ken Ottinger. “You know what you’re going to get from him.”
Ottinger said after attending Wasilla’s graduation Thursday, Boyer opted to skip the all-night “Grad Blast” to which the senior class was treated, deciding to instead travel with the Kenai-bound Warriors to pitch an important conference game.
“He knew it was an important game,” Ottinger said.
Boyer retired nine of the first 14 Kenai batters he faced, and held the Kards scoreless through the first three innings while Wasilla built up a 6-0 lead.
The only Kardinal that was able to figure Boyer out was shortstop Paul Steffensen, who fell a home run short of the cycle with a 3 for 4 day, including a two-out triple in the first inning. Jakeb O’Brien hit 2 for 4 with a double, and Gavin Petterson was 1 for 3 with two runs and a walk.
Kenai dropped to 7-2 overall and in the conference this year, but Friday’s loss was their first true loss in actually competition after a win over Homer earlier in the season had to be forfeited due to a violation of pitcher usage. Wasilla improved to 4-0 in conference play this year.
Kenai Central’s Steven Norvelle started and was given the loss with six innings of work. In his first start this year, Norvelle gave up seven earned runs on seven hits and five walks, while striking out four. O’Brien also pitched an inning and retired all three batters he faced, including a strikeout.
Kenai head coach Steven Nimcheski said several throwing errors kept the Kards from making a serious charge late in the game after Boyer dominated early.
“Their pitcher had our number,” Nimcheski said. “But the second and third time around seeing him, I thought we made some adjustments, but just had a hard time getting runs in.”
After a hot start to the season that has seen Kenai’s bats flourish, Nimcheski said the infield mistakes and pitching finally caught up to the Kards.
“I think we may lead the league in earned runs and runs allowed,” he quipped. “We’ve been doing that in every game, and I think we were trying to do too much today.”
Wasilla’s leadoff hitter Balas Buckmaster scored three times after a hit-by-pitch, a double and a walk, while James Arend had a single and two RBIs.
Buckmaster opened the scoring in the first frame with a run on a passed ball by Kenai, then scored again in the top of the third on a throwing error on a ground ball by Kyle Graham.
Arend brought in two runs on a single to make it 4-0 Wasilla, and a two-out popup by Dawson White dropped into center field to bring in another run. A third run by Buckmaster scored on a passed ball to give Wasilla a daunting 6-0 lead after three innings.
However, Kenai fought back with a run in the bottom of the fourth on an overthrow to first base. Norvelle grounded to second to force an out, but the throw to first was off, sending Levi Mese in to score on the error.
A booming double to right field by Steffensen scored a run for Kenai in the fifth inning, and Steffensen was brought home by an O’Brien double to cut Kenai’s deficit to 6-3.
However, the Kards gave up four runs in the top of the sixth, starting when two runners reached on consecutive errors, and Cyrus Lovell brought home one on a sacrifice fly, and a throw by Kenai catcher Nick Beeson to third was off the mark to bring in another.
A shot to right field by Steffensen dropped in for a two-run error in the bottom of the sixth, but that was all the Kards could muster. Wasilla’s Austin Robertson shut down Kenai for the final three outs, including two strikeouts to secure the win.
Wasilla 5, Soldotna 1
The Warriors completed a successful trip to the central Kenai Peninsula with another dominant pitching effort, this time by Austin Robertson.
Robertson went all seven innings, giving up a run on a hit while walking six and striking out six.
“He pitched amazing,” Soldotna coach Robb Quelland said. “We just didn’t hit. We had opportunities, we just didn’t come through when we needed to. We had multiple baserunning errors.
“They were just a better team tonight.”
Jeremy Kupferschmid had the lone hit and RBI of the night, while Cody Quelland scored the only run.
Matthew Daugherty took the loss, going 5 1-3 innings and giving up four runs — three earned — while walking five and striking out eight.
“He pitched probably one of his better games,” Quelland said.
The coach said that home runs by Balas Buckmaster and Jimmy Arend would have been fly balls in many parks, and those homers resulted in three runs.
The loss sets up a compelling final week in the Southcentral Southern Division. Kenai leads the division at 7-2, with just a game against Soldotna on Wednesday left. The Stars are in second at 4-2 and need to win out to get the top seed. SoHi plays Homer on Monday, Kenai on Wednesday and Kodiak on Friday and Saturday.
But the Stars also could fall in the standings. Kodiak is a 4-4, with just two games left against Soldotna. Homer is at 3-4, with the Monday game against Soldotna then weekend games at Colony and Wasilla.
“I think the boys are up to it,” Quelland said. “They learned a lot this game.”
Houston 6, Homer 1
The host Mariners saw their bats go silent in the conference loss.
Homer had just four hits, with Garrett Butcher getting a double, and Joe Ravin, Adam Brinster and Kyle Wells notching singles. Woape Huffman grounded out to bring in Butcher after the double.
Seth Adkins pitched all seven for Homer, but took the hard-luck loss. Only two of his runs were earned, as he gave up four hits while striking out four.
“We’ve been playing six good innings,” Homer coach Rich Sonnen said. “We just have that one critical error that leads to runs and extra guys on the bases.”