The Homer High School baseball and softball teams will play their first games of the season against Soldotna High School and Kenai Central High School.
Baseball faces Soldotna High School in an away game on Saturday at 3 p.m. Meanwhile, softball plans to show up Kenai on April 26 at 6 p.m., also away.
Though the games have just begun for the two teams, both baseball and softball started practicing in early March with the other earlier starting spring sports. Muddy diamonds from the recent wet weather have made practicing a little more difficult, especially for baseball, but the teams are pushing through and using grassier parts of their fields when necessary.
Both teams also have a strong core of returning varsity players who are working to recruit an influx of freshmen.
The first game against SoHi will involve experimentation to figure out which combinations of players work the best together, said senior Michael Swoboda. It will be a good trial run before their back-to-back games against Kodiak the following weekend.
“We’ve got a lot of young players and just seeing the team progress and get better. There’s been a big learning curve but we’ve got a good group of guys,” Swoboda said.
Swoboda is one of three returning varsity starters on this year’s team. Along with Greg Smith and Kyle Johnson, he is a core part of the varsity baseball team.
“We’ve got a full spectrum. We’ve got a few guys that have never played before, then we’ve got some seniors that played,” said head baseball coach Rich Sonnen. “We’re a small team this year. We’re going to have a lot of guys playing both JV and varsity.”
Despite what might be a “rocky start,” to the season according to Johnson, the players feel that they will come together well by the end. Part of coming together as a team includes running through the basics more than a few times, regardless of skill level.
“We’ve been having some issues with basically the fundamentals of the sport, in my opinion,” said senior Greg Smith. “But if we keep going through our drills, we’re going to be able to build up our team a lot more. Get down to the basics and then we’ll be able to go from there.”
Softball is an end-weighted team this year, said head softball coach Bill Bell. So far, the team has been playing cohesively, making Bell optimistic about this year’s prospects.
“We’ve got a lot of seniors and we have a lot of freshman coming in. We’re weak in that sophomore-junior area,” Bell said. “We’ve got a lot of new kids coming out that have never played before which is nice because they don’t have any bad habits that I’ve taught them in years past, and so I can teach them bad habits now.”
A large part of the team’s success is in the bond they share as fellow athletes working toward the same goal. Many of the girls said they enjoy softball because of the bonds they form.
“I like the team aspect, like you’re with a bunch of girls, working with other people and spending time with the same people,” said senior McKi Needham.
Needham and fellow seniors Isabel Beach, Kyah Doughty, Riley Walls and PK Woo are the players to watch this year, Bell said. Needham is the team’s number one pitcher; Walls will pitch when Needham isn’t on the mound. Both Beach and Doughty are strong catchers, Bell said.
Doughty and Needham are hopeful that this year’s trajectory for the team will lead them to the state championship.
“I think we do. We’ve got a pretty decent defense and our offense is coming well. We’ve got some decent hitters too,” Doughty said. “Hopefully it comes together.”
“Softball’s a really simple game — you throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball, so we’re working on throwing the ball,” Bell said. “The team that throws the best and catches the best generally wins.”