By CAMILLE BOTELLO
and JEFF HELMINIAK
The Soldotna baseball team lost the third-place game, 4-3, against the North Pole Patriots in extra innings at the Division II state baseball tournament at Wasilla High School on Saturday.
SoHi head coach Robb Quelland said Saturday was the Stars’ first time facing North Pole, and the first time in over a year many of the players were playing in a game where the stakes were so high.
Four SoHi boys had been able to play in the Alliance Baseball League team last summer, Quelland said. The high school and American Legion seasons did not happen in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, so the Alliance league was formed for the summer of 2020 to give players a chance for some games.
The Stars capitalized on some early North Pole miscues — scoring one run in the bottom of the second inning on an overthrow pickoff attempt and another in the bottom of the third on a stolen base and a passed ball. The Stars had a 3-0 lead after four innings.
North Pole scored three runs in the top of the fifth inning on two runs batted in and one Soldotna outfield error to tie the game.
At the plate in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings, SoHi only managed to put one runner on base — Andrew Pieh, who walked. There were three Soldotna strikeouts and two ground-outs in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings.
The Stars and Patriots remained tied at 3 after seven innings to send the game to extras.
North Pole started at the plate in the top of the eighth. Josh Dutra led off with a hard ground ball single to left field, and then got caught in a fielder’s choice at second base for the first out.
Patriot center fielder Noah Perkins stole second base after he reached by fielder’s choice to put himself in scoring position. Connor Lanser batted him in with a single to shallow center field, pushing North Pole ahead, 4-3.
SoHi’s first baseman Riley Johnson made an unassisted double play — catching a line drive to first base and then stomping on his bag, ringing up the first base runner who failed to tag up — to get the Stars out of the top of the eighth inning.
The Stars took to the plate with the top of their lineup in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Daltyn Deborski struck out swinging for Soldotna’s first out. Stars catcher Jacob Belger put himself on base with a hard ground ball single up the middle, giving SoHi a chance to tie the game.
North Pole put freshman left-handed pitcher Simeon Langer on the mound after Belger reached on a base hit.
Before his first pitch to SoHi batter Atticus Gibson, Langer made a pickoff move to first base, forcing Belger into a rundown. He was tagged out by North Pole shortstop Logan Fischer in a pickle.
With no one left on base and two outs, Stars third baseman Gibson reached on a shallow line drive single to right field.
Stars center fielder Josh Pieh only saw one pitch before Langer made another deceptive pickoff move, forcing Gibson into another rundown. After four throws between the North Pole shortstop and first baseman, Gibson was tagged out by Fischer for the final out of the game.
“Just two really poor baserunning decisions in the bottom of the eighth inning,” Quelland said. “It just sealed the deal.”
Soldotna ended its season at fifth place in the Division II tournament. Making the fourth trip to state as a program, SoHi was able to win for the first time at state Thursday.
“We originally set goals of making state, and then winning one game and we accomplished that,” Quelland said.
The Stars had a total of five hits and one error. The Patriots had nine hits and three errors.
Andrew Pieh was awarded the Stars player of the game, and Deborski and Gavin Jones were state all-tournament players.
“Where they were six weeks ago in the gym … there’s no way we would have fathomed that we’d be playing in the state for third place,” Quelland said.
Derrick Jones pitched the first 4 1/3 innings for the Stars, allowing two runs and five hits while striking out three and walking one.
Andrew Pieh got two outs while giving up an unearned run, while Belger pitched three innings and gave up a run on two hits while walking one and striking out one.
Belger finished 2 for 3 with a run, while Andrew Pieh was 2 for 2 with a run.
Monroe Catholic 18, Homer 16
The Mariners couldn’t come back to beat the Rams in Wasilla on Saturday, ending their season at sixth place in the state tournament.
The Rams dominated on offense early, batting all the way around their lineup and scoring six runs on four Homer errors in just the first inning.
“I was really wondering how the guys were going to react to giving up six runs in the first inning,” Homer head coach Rich Sonnen said. “You never know how they’re going to react — whether they’re just going to roll over or battle back, and they did.”
The Mariners put up four runs in the bottom of the first, with singles from Harrison Metz and Mylan Johnson, as well as doubles from Austin Ceccarelli and designated hitter Charly Tappan.
The Rams scored another three runs in the top of the second, and held the Mariners to just one. Homer was down 9-5 at the start of the third inning.
The Mariners held the Rams scoreless in the third and fourth innings. Pitcher Malachi Raymond only faced seven of Monroe Catholic’s batters between the two innings, giving up no base hits, striking out two and walking one.
Homer scored two runs in the bottom of the third, one courtesy of a solo home run sent out of the park by Jonathon Gregiore.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, the Mariners hit around the lineup nearly one and a half times. Homer scored eight runs with hits from Ceccarelli, Johnson, Raymond and Liam Houlihan, a sacrifice bunt from Gabe Dash and two Monroe Catholic errors. The Mariners also forced Rams pitcher Shaun Conwell to give up three walks in the inning in taking a 15-9 lead.
Monroe Catholic battled back in the fifth and sixth innings, scoring nine to lead 18-15, all while holding the Mariners scoreless. Johnson stole home to score Homer’s final run in the bottom of the seventh inning, but it wasn’t enough to lift the Mariners to the win they needed.
“We thought we were going to finish a little better,” Sonnen said. “But I’m really proud of the way the guys here played this tournament … for them to rebound and perform like they did at the state tournament was great.”
Homer’s going to lose a few seniors next year, but Sonnen said that he has a fair amount of underclassmen coming back for next season.
“We had a lot of freshmen and sophomores in the lineup today, and they got a lot of experience this season, but we’re going to be young next year, too,” he said.
Homer had 18 hits and 10 errors on Saturday, with nine of the 18 runs being ruled as earned. Gregoire was named the Mariners player of the game as well as an all-tournament player, along with Metz.
Ceccarelli was 3 for 5 with three RBIs for the Mariners, while Josiah Raymond and Malachi Raymond also had three hits. Gregoire was 2 for 4 with two runs, while Johnson was 2 for 5 with four runs and three RBIs, and Metz was 2 for 5.
The Homer Mariners also won the Division II baseball tournament sportsmanship award.
Palmer 7, Soldotna 1
Palmer starting pitcher Landon Guggenmos struck out 13 in a complete-game victory Friday in the semifinals of the Division II state baseball tournament at Wasilla High School.
Guggenmos gave up a run on seven hits while also walking a batter.
“He’s one of the best pitchers in the division,” Soldotna coach Robb Quelland said of Guggenmos. “The nice thing for them, having a seasoned roster, is Palmer is afforded the opportunity to leave another good guy for tomorrow.
“They have a ton of arms available.”
Palmer defeated Kodiak 7-3 on Saturday to win the state championship.
Quelland said SoHi had its chances, including bases loaded with no outs in an inning the Stars scored no runs.
Senior Daltyn Deborski was able to go 2 for 4 with a double and a triple.
“Daltyn is our leader on the field, and he’s playing probably the best baseball on the team,” Quelland said. “He’s a great leader. He comes out every game, no matter how he’s feeling, and gives 100%.”
Gavin Jones had two hits for the Stars, while Atticus Gibson, Andrew Pieh and Levi Mickelson also had hits.
Josh Pieh, the second of two seniors on the team, started for Soldotna and went five innings, giving up seven runs — four earned — on seven hits while walking five and striking out two.
“Our other senior came out with a gutsy performance against the power, speed and ability of the other team,” Quelland said.
Freshman Derrick Jones relieved in the sixth inning with bases loaded and no outs and got out of the jam while allowing just one run. Jones gave up no hits and no runs in two innings while whiffing two.
Quelland also said his pitchers and catcher Jacob Belger allowed just one steal against Palmer, which normally steals eight to 10 a game.
Homer 3, Petersburg 2
The Mariners rallied for two runs in the top of the seventh inning to advance to the fourth-place game against Monroe Catholic.
Homer grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Homer pitcher Austin Ceccarelli and Petersburg pitcher Mattias Volk were then able to keep any runs from crossing the plate until the bottom of the sixth inning, when Petersburg struck for a 2-1 lead to set up Homer’s big rally in the top of the seventh.
“It was good for the guys to be down and able to come back,” Homer coach Rich Sonnen said. “We also held them in the seventh. Those are the type of things we haven’t been able to do this year.”
Ceccarelli pitched a complete game, allowing eight hits and two runs while walking one and striking out five. Homer had three errors but they did no harm on the scoreboard.
“It was big for us to be able to play that well defensively,” Sonnen said. “We’ve had a couple errors that have kept the other team going in some big innings, and that’s been one of our downfalls.”
Sonnen said Petersburg was putting the ball in play, so the defense had to rise to the occasion.
The Homer coach said some of his hitters were struggling with Volk’s curveball, so Homer went to small ball in the top of the seventh. Mylan Johnson was hit by a pitch and Charly Tappan had a bloop single to start the inning. Johnson and Tappan scored on bunts by Gabe Dash and Liam Houlihan.