The Homer Mariners will have to wait another year for that elusive and overdue state softball title after a double-elimination day at the Division II tournament at the South Davis Park Complex in Fairbanks.
Homer won a game but lost two in a row Friday to drop out of state championship contention, beating Kodiak 19-12 but finishing with an 18-0 dud to Thunder Mountain and a heartbreaking 8-7 walkoff loss to Delta Junction, a team Homer had beaten a day earlier.
“We were hoping we could make it to Saturday, but one of the joys we took is we didn’t get beat by someone else in our conference,” said Homer coach Bill Bell, referring to the previous two state tourneys in which Northern Lights Conference rival Soldotna ousted the Mariners. “That was a little rough.”
Coming into the tournament, Bell made it clear that to get to the state final, it would take toppling the powerhouse Southeast softball programs, which have strung together a remarkable nine straight state crowns.
Bell said the Southeast barrier still is tough to crack.
“We’ve got to work on our farm teams,” he said, referring to the pre-high school programs. “I’ve talked to a middle school principal in Homer and said let’s have a softball team there. When kids get to high school, they’ll know what to do.”
The good news is that with a young team, Bell can look forward to returning a sizable chunk of starters in spring 2019. The only senior starter this year was Sam Moonin, who is joined by Libby Fabich as outgoing players.
It still didn’t make Friday’s showing any easier.
Delta’s Ashley Brevard showed she has a knack for late comebacks by cranking a solo shot in the bottom of the seventh that sent the Huskies on to a Saturday morning elimination game with North Pole and the Mariners packing up for good.
A day before, Brevard put a scare into Homer by knocking out a run-scoring double in the bottom of the seventh that put Delta within one run of the Mariners, but ultimately proved futile as Homer held on to win.
Friday afternoon, Brevard’s heroics proved much more dire for Homer. Brevard’s home run was the second of the game for her and just made it past the glove of center fielder Grace Godfrey, who Bell said made some fantastic grabs in the outfield all day long.
“I had Grace right at the fence for that,” Bell said.
Prior to the walkoff ending, Homer had staged a comeback after trailing 7-3 after five innings. Delta plated four runs in the bottom of the fifth, topped by a three-run blast by Brevard.
The Mariners responded in the top of the sixth with consecutive two-out singles by Annalynn Brown and Haylee Owen, and Godfrey and Kaitlyn Johnson followed with run-scoring doubles that closed the gap to 7-6.
In the top of the seventh, Hannah Hatfield cranked a triple to center field, then scored the game-tying run on a sac fly by Ksenia Kuzmin.
“They played well and kept their energy up,” Bell said of his squad.
Johnson ended the day 3 for 4 with four runs batted in, while Owen was 3 for 3 and Brown was 2 for 3.
Brown pitched a complete game for Homer and struck out five in six innings, giving up eight runs on 12 hits and walking none.
In the first game of the day, the Mariners used a massive 11-run sixth inning to collect a big win over Kodiak.
The Mariners trailed 9-5 after five innings, but things took a huge turn, starting with a leadoff single by Brown. Later in the frame, Godfrey drew a walk to juice the bases, and Johnson and Briana Hetrick forced in runs with walks of their own, cutting the lead to 9-7.
The power play came next on a bases-clearing triple by Hatfield which gave Homer a 10-9 lead. Hatfield finished the day with five RBIs on 1-for-3 hitting and two walks.
An RBI single by Brown and a two-RBI double by Owen continued the offensive attack, and three straight bases-loaded walks by Hetrick, Becca Chapman and Hatfield continued to move runners.
By the time Sadie Blake struck out to end the frame, Homer had brought 17 batters to the dish.
Owen finished the day hitting 4 for 6 with two RBIs and three runs, Brown went 3 for 5 with two RBIs, and Johnson and Hetrick both batted in three runs.
In the pitching circle, Brown had a long day with eight strikeouts over seven frames and 146 pitches. Brown issued seven walks and gave up 16 hits. Overall, Brown threw 254 total pitches between the three games on Friday.
“I’d say it was Herculean both in her pitching and hitting,” Bell said. “She was almost always on base, hitting well, and was a major threat.”
The nearly three-hour event left the Mariners tired for defending state champion Thunder Mountain.
“It was a disaster,” Bell said.
Bell criticized the tough scheduling of the state tournament, pointing out that the winner of Friday morning’s first game continued on to play immediately, while the loser waited it out before playing at 5 p.m., meaning several hours of rest.
“It’s kind of like you get penalized for winning that game,” Bell said. “We were a little bit tired from a two-and-three-quarter hour game with Kodiak, and with the delay it was running late, so we ate and had to be ready in 10 minutes.”
Bell said that no matter the amount of rest his players may have had, it didn’t amount to much against the high-powered Falcons. Thunder Mountain pelted Homer with 20 base hits and opened the game with nine runs in the first inning, then tacked on two in the second, three in the third and four in the fourth to end with a mercy rule.
Marissa Tanuvasa-Tuvaifale got things going with a two-run double in the first, and after three more runs scored on hits, her sister Mariah Tanuvasa-Tuvaifale really opened the game by ripping a two-run homer to center field for a 7-0 Falcons lead.
In the end, Thunder Mountain’s big bats came down to Maxie Saceda-Hurt, who hit 4 for 4 with four runs and two RBIs, and Peyton Harp, who batted in four runs on 3-for-3 hitting. Thunder Mountain advanced to the state semifinals against Ketchikan.
Homer’s only two base hits came from Godfrey, who had a double, and Hatfield.
Brown was pulled with only two outs in the first inning, after giving up seven runs on six hits.
“I don’t know what I would do if I had to play Thunder Mountain for the championship,” Bell said. “They’d start keying in slow pitches and take the fast pitches.”
Hatfield took over for Brown in relief and went 1 1-3 frames, giving up four runs on six hits and a walk, and Chapman finished the final two frames with seven runs on eight hits and two walks. None of Homer’s pitchers were able to record a strikeout against the vaunted Falcons batting.
“We wanted to throw offspeed stuff, so we went with Annalyn, and that didn’t work because those girls can hit,” Bell said.