SoHi softball aims for state title

Soldotna softball coach Dave Cleveland cut straight to the point when asked about his expectations of the squad entering the postseason.

“The mind-set is to win it all, I’m telling you right now,” Cleveland said.

“We want to win every game and win it all, we are coming out to win every game.”

The Stars begin that quest against Eieleson of the Mid Alaska Conference in the opening round of the small-schools state tournament at 9 a.m. today at Cartee Fields in Anchorage.

A win puts the Stars against Sitka at 1 p.m. today, while a loss drops them to a loser-out game against either Homer, Monroe Catholic or Ketchikan at 3 p.m. today. All games are at Cartee.

SoHi (10-9 overall, 6-2 conference) finished second in the Northern Lights Conference behind Homer and has state-tournament experience, placing third in 2010.

Eight of the nine starters were members of that squad, something Cleveland believes will serve the Stars well in their title hunt.

“They know what it’s like, they know how to deal with the extra pressure,” the coach said.

Briana VinZant, a senior, will start the opener. She pitched six strong innings in a 5-3 season-ending loss against Homer last weekend. Nikki Hegge is next in line to toe the rubber and will see significant innings if the Stars make a deep run through the bracket.

Cleveland is confident in both, but he said the club must play well in all three phases of the game — pitching, hitting and defense.

Kaycee Munn leads the team in home runs and will bat No. 3 or 4 in the lineup, while Alisah Kress will be looked upon to spark rallies from the No. 2 hole behind VinZant.

Cleveland knows little about the first-round opponent other than what he saw during practices at Cartee on Thursday.

What the coach does know is expectations are high and his unit is confident and eager to take the field.

“They are hungry, they want it, they are coming ready to play,” Cleveland said. “They are loose, they are having a good time. They aren’t sitting on pins and needles, and that’s what we like to see.”

Sitka is the defending state champion.

Homer

The Mariners, who won their second consecutive Northern Lights Conference regular-season championship, receive a first-round bye and will play at 1 p.m. Friday against either Monroe Catholic or Ketchikan for a berth to the semifinals. Monroe and Ketchikan play at 9 a.m. Friday, with the winner drawing Homer and the loser dropping to the consolation bracket.

Homer won the NLC by going 15-9 overall and 8-0 in the conference, clinching the crown with a 5-3 win at Soldotna in last weekend’s regular-season finale.

The Mariners feature a trio of pitchers in Hannah Larue, Kathleen McNary and Zoe Fogg who have combined to throw 120 1-3 innings. All of them have pitched at least 34 2-3 innings. Larue leads the squad with six wins.

Homer lost both its games at last year’s state tournament, falling to Ketchikan 4-3 and Soldotna 9-5.

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