During their first week of games, the Mariner softball team sent a clear message to conference competition: beware.
In their opening game April 28, the Mariners stomped out Kenai 21-0. This past weekend they fought off tough competition from Chugiak, splitting Saturday’s double header, and coming away with Homer’s first win over the Anchorage team in recent history. And Monday night, the Mariners’ early success solidified into a pattern when they mowed down Soldotna, 19-1.
“I hope we’re setting the tone for the season,” said the Mariners’ Head Coach Bill Bell.
The winning streak began last week during the season’s opening game. The Mariners came out hitting and were aggressive, advancing on the base paths and racking up runs. Junior McKi Needham and senior Pam Jantzi split the game pitching, striking out three Kenai batters, and the rest of the team held the field on defensive lock down, keeping Kenai from scoring a single run.
On Saturday, the Mariners played a double header on their home field against the Chugiak Mustangs. Homer was prepared for tough completion, as Chugiak, with a student body over twice the size of HHS, has fielded aggressive players in past years.
“They’re one of the toughest teams. I don’t think we’ve ever beaten them before,” said Bell.
During the first game, the Mariners held the Mustangs to three runs for the majority of the game with a strong defensive effort. In the third inning, Homer turned an impressive double play at the home plate. Needham fielded the ball as pitcher, throwing to first base to snag the first out before the ball sped home to senior catcher Maggie LaRue to get the second.
“Chugiak was really impressed and so was I,” said Bell of the play.
The Mariners’ offensive energy was strong as well, with help from players like senior Kyla Pitzman, who had three hits in the game. In the 6th inning, the Mustangs increased their lead by three runs, and the game ended in a 1-6 loss for the Mariners. However, the home team’s aggression on the field had shaken the Mustangs, who came out for the second matchup less confident than the first.
The second game got off to a strong start for the Mariners who scored five runs in the first two innings. Chugiak brought the score up to 5-3 in the top of the third, but the Mariners responded, holding the Anchorage team to three runs for the remainder of the game. Strong pitching from Jantzi, and quick fielding by the rest of the team, propelled the Mariners to a strong finish of 13-3.
On Monday the team brought the same intensity to their game against Soldotna. Leading an offensive charge, Homer came out aggressive at bat, finishing the game with no strikeouts. Needham hit a homerun, and seniors Pitzman, LaRue and Larsen Fellows found strong connections with the ball, nabbing three hits each. Soldotna’s Ila Cobb, strong at bat, led the action for the Stars, but the Mariners’ momentum could not be quelled, and they finished the night with a 19-1 victory.
Bell attributes the Mariners’ early success in large part to the cohesion of his athletes, and the foundation of support that underlies their ambition. In early March, 17 players traveled to Florida with Bell for a week of spring training, a trip that facilitated important early bonding and laid the groundwork for collaboration.
“You can have the most talented players, but if they’re not meshing and bonding as a team, you don’t have much,” said Bell.
The Mariners hope to extend this supportive team ethos to the entire community May 15, by hosting a Strike Out Cancer game. The team will play a double header against Kodiak at their home Jack Gist field, selling food and T-shirts and gathering donations to support the Alaska chapter of the American Cancer Society.
Bell hopes the benefit game will inspire his athletes to think outside themselves, and apply the lessons of sportsmanship and teamwork they’re learning on the field to the community at large. If they can take that away from the game, “the donations are just icing on the cake,” he said.
The Mariners head to Anchorage this weekend to play Juneau, Dimond, and Service at the Albrecht Fields on Friday and Saturday.
Lindsay Olsen is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.
4/28/15 Homer v. Kenai 21-0
5/2/15 Homer v. Chugiak 1-6
5/2/15 Homer v. Chugiak 13-3
5/4/15 Homer v. Soldotna 19-1
5/8/15 Homer v. Juneau @ Anchorage 5:45 p.m.
5/8/15 Homer v. Dimond @ Anchorage 7:30 p.m.
5/9/15 Homer v. Service @ Anchorage 9:45 a.m.
5/15/15 Homer v. Kodiak @ Homer: Strike Out Cancer 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.