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Stars stop Kenai, near state berth

Posted: May 19, 2011 - 3:26pm

The Soldotna softball team needed two hits to score 17 runs in a win against Kenai Central two weeks ago.

Not much changed Tuesday at Steve Shearer Memorial fields.

The Stars capitalized on 17 walks and took a major step toward clinching a berth to the Class 4A state tournament with an 11-1 Northern Lights Conference victory over the host Kardinals.

Alisah Kress, who was 3-for-3 with four RBIs, was the lone Star with multiple hits. The game was called due to the 90-minute time limit after four innings.

"We told them to have some patience," SoHi coach Dave Cleveland said. "You have to wait on these pitchers. You want to make the pitchers pitch to you."

That's exactly what the Stars did after falling behind 1-0 through an inning, plating five runs in the second and six in the third on a slew of walks.

Pitchers Briana VinZant and Nikki Hegge didn't need much support. VinZant allowed one run in two innings, while Hegge pitched two shutout innings in relief.

Struggling to throw her change-up for strikes, Hegge used fastballs and curveballs to establish a rhythm.

"I was feeling a little shaky," she said. "I always tell myself before, 'Don't worry about it, just pitch, throw my hardest because everybody is behind me and it's my responsibility to lead the team.'"

The win all but puts the Stars in the state tournament because the top two squads from the NLC advance and SoHi can do no worse than finish in a three-way tie for first with Kodiak and Homer.

Even for that to happen, SoHi must lose to Homer in its regular-season finale and Kodiak must sweep Homer in a doubleheader next week. If the Stars beat the Mariners, or Homer and Kodiak split, SoHi clinches.

After a third-place finish on the big stage in 2010, the players are hungry for a return trip.

"We're back with vengeance," VinZant said. "We should have taken it last year."

Despite Tuesday's win, nothing is certain for the Stars and Cleveland wants the team to improve.

SoHi hosts Chugiak and Bartlett in doubleheaders Friday and Saturday, respectively -- games that could determine their postseason fate if they finish in a three-way tie with the Bears and Mariners.

Under that scenario, the likely tiebreaker would be record against common opponents. Homer also faces Chugiak and Bartlett for four games this weekend.

"What I told the ladies tonight was we are in the driver's seat," Cleveland said. "This next week and a half is important. We have been playing pretty good, but now we have to start playing better."

The key to success for SoHi moving forward?

"We need to make sure our bats are hot all around right from the beginning and not have that really bad inning where we fall apart," VinZant said. "It's like we'll get out of a good inning and we'll be on a high, and then we'll make a couple errors and there will be runners on base and we start to get a little nervous and people start to make mistakes out of nerves."

Friday's doubleheader against Chugiak begins at 6 p.m. Both games are at Guy and Judy Hayes Field in Soldotna.

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