The Homer softball team won a third straight Northern Lights Conference title in convincing fashion Saturday at the Soldotna Little League fields.
The Mariners topped Kodiak 12-3 in six innings in a game that was moved to Soldotna after Steve Shearer Memorial Ball Park in Kenai was swamped with rain earlier in the day.
Homer also had dominant 11-3 win over Soldotna and 12-0 win over Kodiak earlier in the tournament, meaning the Mariners are clicking as they head to state for the 19th time in 20 seasons. Homer had come into the tournament as the No. 2 seed after losing to top-seeded Kodiak twice in conference during the regular season.
“I think this is how they’ll play at state,” coach Bill Bell said. “They’re pretty much running themselves at the moment. We just wind them up and let them go.
“They’re good at communicating with each other when something is wrong.”
Grace Godfrey hit .700 in the tournament and had a grand slam in the top of the sixth inning in the championship. Bell said Haylee Owen, Hannah Hatfield and Kaylin Anderson also were above .600 in the tournament.
Annalynn Brown pitched all six innings for the win. She allowed three runs — two earned — and eight hits while striking out two and walking one.
On offense, Godfrey was 3 for 3 with five RBIs, Brown had two RBIs, Anderson had two runs, Owen was 2 for 2 with three runs, Hatfield was 2 for 3 with two runs and three RBIs, and Becca Chapman was 2 for 3 with two runs.
Earlier Saturday, Kodiak had defeated Soldotna to earn the conference’s second state berth and end the season for the Stars.
Homer 12, Kodiak 0, 5 innings
Saturday, the Mariners shook off two conference losses to the Bears in the regular season to earn a 19th state bid in 20 years and a spot in the championship game. Kodiak had finished 8-0 in the conference to take the top seed.
Zoe Adkins, just a freshman, was masterful on the mound, going all five innings and giving up just two hits, while striking out seven and walking two.
“I didn’t think she’d pitch a shutout — I thought it would be a nail-biter game,” Bell said. “I think she’s just realized she doesn’t have to be concerned with being a freshman anymore. She’s gotten to a point where she believes in herself.”
At the plate, Godfrey was 2 for 4, Brianna Hetrick was 2 for 4 with two runs, Kaitlyn Johnson was 3 for 4 with three runs, Chapman had two runs, Anderson was 3 for 3, and Owen was 3 for 4 with two runs.
Homer took a 4-0 lead in the first, then scored four more in the third and fifth.
Soldotna 17, Kenai 4, 4 innings
The Stars stayed alive in the second-place bracket early Saturday and ended Kenai’s season.
SoHi coach Kelli Knoebel said the game was close until Soldotna was able to string together a bunch of runs in the fourth inning. By that time it was raining hard and the umpires called the game.
Casey Earll again went the distance for Soldotna on the mound.
“They were just hitting the ball and smart on the basepaths,” Soldotna coach Kelli Knoebel said.
Kenai coach John Manley said the timing of the rain was unfortunate. He said it started raining hard when Kaylee Lauritsen took the mound in the bottom of the fourth and it was impossible to keep the ball dry.
“I don’t want to say we would have beaten them,” Manley said. “They were ahead when it started raining.
“We were playing well and it was just unfortunate.”
Manley still said the Kardinals had an extremely positive showing at the tournament, showcasing how much better they had gotten.
“I hope I get everybody back next year and they stick together,” Manley said. “We could be really good if the girls stick together.”
Soldotna 17, Houston 13
The Stars stayed alive in the second-place bracket Friday by edging the Hawks.
“It was a battle,” Knoebel said. “The kids were out in the sun all day. They battled the whole way.”
The Stars were missing Ashley McDonald due to injury, and Knoebel said Earll took the Stars on her back.
Homer 11, Soldotna 3, 5 innings
The No. 2 seed Mariners gave the No. 3 Stars no room for error in a first-round game Friday.
“Everything felt good,” Homer coach Bill Bell said. “There were no glaring errors. The bottom of the lineup hit nicely. They were firing on all cylinders.”
Knoebel said the Stars did not play well enough to beat a quality team like Homer.
“We were sloppy defensively and didn’t make some plays,” Knoebel said.
Annalynn Brown pitched all five for Homer, giving up three earned runs on 10 hits while walking three and striking out three.
Knoebel gave credit to Brown for a great game, but added that Earll had her best game of the season, allowing just six free bases.
On offense for Homer, Grace Godfrey was 2 for 3 with three runs, Brianna Hetrick was 2 for 3 with three RBIs, Brown had two RBIs, Kaylin Anderson had two RBIs, Zoe Adkins had two hits and two runs, and Hannah Hatfield was 3 for 3 with two runs.
For SoHi, McDonald stroked a two-run double to right. McDonald finished 2 for 2. Also for the Stars, Bailey Berger was 3 for 3 and Estrella Slats was 2 for 2. Bailey Smith, Slats and Lillian Gomez had the runs.
Kodiak defeats Kenai
The top-seeded Bears invoked the mercy rule on Kenai in a Friday first-round game to make their way to the semifinal.
“We were having trouble with their pitcher because she has more speed than we are used to,” Manley said. “In the fourth inning, it was 12-0, and we had two outs, and all of a sudden we started hitting the ball and scored seven runs with two outs.”
Kodiak took control after that.
Kaidence Harvey, Andie Galloway, Zaharah Wilshusen and Neirad Phillips all had key hits during the rally for Kenai.
Kaylee Lauritsen pitched for Kenai and Manley said she did pretty good, but that Kodiak hits well. Manley mentioned Wilshusen was able to turn a double play from short.
Kenai 18, Houston 16
After the No. 4 seed Hawks scored nine runs in the sixth inning to tighten up the game, the No. 5 seed Kards held strong in the seventh inning to pick up a win in the opening game of the tournament Friday.
“They’re a much better team,” Manley said of the Hawks. “That was anybody’s game. We held tight there at the end.”
Lauritsen is the pitcher that was able to hold down the Hawks in the seventh. Manley said Kaidence Harvey had a nice play at second in the inning, while catcher Kylan Lakshas had a key throw to second in the fifth inning that also thwarted the Hawks, and Lexi Reis fielded her position well at first base.
The coach said Wilshusen, Phillips and Nani Ropoza led the offense.
For Houston, center fielder and pitcher Mackenzie Moore had a huge game finishing 4 for 5 with four RBIs and four runs. She had an inside-the-park home run that just missed clearing the fence.
MVP — Cameron Bolen, Kodiak.
First team — Bailey Berger, Soldotna; Grace Godrey, Homer; Annalynn Brown, Homer; Casey Earll, Soldotna; Mackenzie Moore, Houston; Leslie Spear, Kodiak; Avery Kreischer, Kodiak; Katie Banks, Kodiak.
Second team — Aurora Berg, Kodiak; Bri Hetrick, Homer; Nereid Phillips, Kenai; Jennifer Peterson, Houston; Zaharah Wilshusen, Kenai; Ashlyn Asp, Soldotna.