The Kenai Central baseball team will begin play in the ASAA State championship tournament in Anchorage today, and the key tactic for the Kardinals is consistency, meaning head coach John Kennedy will be changing nothing.
“I think the nucleus will be important, guys like Robert, AJ, Ethan and more experienced players, I’ll be relying on those guys,” Kennedy said.
Of course, he is speaking of players like Robert Cockrell, AJ Hull, Ethan Oliver and Jonathan Wilson, all guys that Kennedy expects to put up big numbers.
“Our goal is to come out and play fundamental baseball, and to just minimize mistakes,” Kennedy said. “We would like to get some numbers on the board, and have good pitching and catching.”
With Hull and Oliver pitching, it will be be quite a matchup against the team’s first opponent on Thursday — the Service Cougars, a perennial powerhouse school.
Hull, a senior, has been clutch all season long for the Kards, helping to earn Kenai a 7-2 league record, and Oliver has been the necessary pitcher to get the job done in addition to Hull.
“They are a complex team, and just a really close, confident group,” Kenai assistant coach Matt Paulus said. “They can beat anybody, and I think they think they can beat anybody. With those guys anything can happen.”
Last weekend, Kenai managed to come back from near elimination to earn a state berth in the Southcentral Conference second-place game, escaping with a 2-1 win over Wasilla. The win earned Kenai the second seed from the Southcentral conference. Colony is the top seed.
With the momentum, Kennedy is hoping to also utilize some of the younger players on the team, which is composed entirely of juniors and seniors, with the exception of four sophomores.
“Our sophomores need to come through and play big games,” Kennedy said. “Miles (Jones) can produce some good pitching, too.”
Paulus said the hitting of the older players will be paramount, as any big hits off of Service’s Zach Ferntheil will be needed.
Ferntheil recently was named Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year in a vote.
“Jonathan Wilson can come through with some clutch hits, and with a guy like AJ, we can do it,” Paulus said. “AJ is just a great athlete, and we’re just going to play our game, no reason to change things now.”
Kenai’s game against the Cougars starts at 7 p.m. at Mulcahy Park in Anchorage.
“It’s a little different venue, but we’re sticking to the same thing,” Kennedy said. “The bottom line is we’re trying to win the first game, and after that I’ll look at what we have and look at our pitching.
“We may be changing things around after tomorrow, but for now we’re going to be staying the course, because that’s what works.”