The Soldotna baseball team is wasting no time easing junior Tyler Marcuson back into baseball.
Marcuson has been out all season due to academics, but he will take the hill for the Stars today when they face Houston at 1 p.m. in the first round of the Southcentral Conference tournament at Hermon Brothers Field in Palmer.
Other first-round games are North No. 1 seed Colony vs. South No. 4 seed Homer at 7 p.m.; North No. 2 seed Palmer vs. South No. 3 seed Kenai at 10 a.m.; and South No. 1 seed Kodiak vs. North No. 4 seed Wasilla at 4 p.m.
The tournament is single-elimination. Today's winners play in Friday's semifinals. The semifinal winners earn a state berth and a spot in Saturday's 1 p.m. championship game.
While Marcuson hasn't played this year, he is one of SoHi's most experienced players and also has been a key player for the American Legion Twins for several years.
"We've been working him in the bullpen heavy," Soldotna coach Roger Phillips said. "He's been getting his reps and I think he's ready."
Even without Marcuson, Phillips said he is feeling good about Soldotna's offense. The Stars beat Houston 10-8 earlier this season.
"We actually match up really well with that squad," Phillips said. "They only have a handful of experienced pitchers, and we hit them very well."
Marcuson is a classic cleanup hitter, but he probably won't hit there because senior Josiah Covey has held down that spot in the order by hitting over .500.
Freshman Max Hegge leads the team in on-base percentage, and Phillips also likes what he has seen from lefty Mason Kanakis from the plate lately.
If the Stars top the Hawks, the Colony-Homer winner awaits. Phillips said Tyler Fritz will get the start if there is a second game. The Stars are looking for the second state berth in program history.
"He's had success on the mound, with the exception of the outing against Colony where we played such poor defense," Phillips said of Fritz.
Phillips said Marcuson's catching skills also will help the team on defense. With decent pitching and hitting, Phillips said the team's chances will depend on defense.
"We have got to get rid of those lapses," Phillips said. "If you look at the games where we've been successful, we've limited ourselves in our bad innings."
The team wasn't able to do that against Colony on Saturday, when the Stars lost 17-4. In one inning, the Stars allowed six runs on just one hit.
"That's ridiculous," Phillips said.
Kenai Central coach John Kennedy also said his squad will have to limit mistakes against the Moose. Palmer cruised to a victory over the Kards earlier this year in the first conference game in Kenai's history. The Kards finished the conference slate 2-5.
"We're going to make mistakes," Kennedy said. "We're going to have to minimize those mistakes by not following them with error after error after error."
Kennedy said he wouldn't mind if Palmer came into the game thinking the Kards are the same team they were at the beginning of the season.
For one thing, Kennedy said the Moose have not seen AJ Hull, who is Kenai's best pitcher. Hull will probably start today.
"I'll be honest," Kennedy said. "It's going to take everybody for us to have success."
With a win, Kenai gets the Kodiak-Wasilla winner.