The Kenai Central baseball team started the first day of the ASAA State tournament with a 6-3 loss against Service.
The game was tight throughout, as Service held only a 2-0 lead through the top of the fifth inning.
“We got hurt early, those two runs, and both runs that were scored were off two walks,” Kenai coach John Kennedy said. “We only gave up one hit and they scored two runs, and then we gave up our third run on an error, so if you take those runs away and if we do what we’re supposed to do, we’re in a ballgame.”
In the top of the fifth inning, Kenai had a good chance to score, as Robert Cockrell had a single, and Zack Mese bunted to put Cockrell at second.
Dallas Pierren then had a walk, and with two men on base, Luke Short was up to attempt a score.
Short hit a ball up high which almost allowed the run, but the close catch was made.
“I told the kids at the top of the inning, I don’t care what you do, just don’t quit playing,” Kennedy said. “Keep playing hard, and we had some chances. A few times we got thrown out at home plate on a miscommunication.”
With the slim lead at the bottom of the fifth and one out, Service’s Braden Mitchell and Jake Ridley both hit singles, which led to a Garrett Brown at-bat. Brown had a hit which allowed Ridley to score.
In the top of the sixth inning, Kenai’s AJ Hull had a single, and he was able to steal both second and third bases, which put him in a scoring position, but Kenai’s next three batters struck out.
In the sixth inning, Service racked up three runs, two of which were unearned, and that essentially iced the game.
“It’s just our aggressiveness trying to run the bases, trying to do something, so it was our overaggressiveness that hurt us,” Kennedy said. “Give the kids credit, they did play hard. We can play, and that’s something that they can learn.”
Of course, facing up against Service pitcher Zach Ferntheil, who was recently named Alaska Gatorade Baseball player of the year, can be daunting.
“It’s nothing different, but he throws the ball well,” Hull said. “You just hit on his mistakes and hit it hard.
“You can’t go into the batter’s box with a negative attitude and being intimidated, you got to go and hit it hard, and baseball’s a game of odds, and hopefully it’s located right.”
Hull pitched six innings for Kenai and recorded eight walks, along with nine hits.
Kenai’s top hitter was Robert Cockrell, who was 2 for 3 with a run.
Hull went 1 for 4 with one RBI, Ethan Oliver was 1 for 3, Miles Jones had a run, Dallas Pierren recorded two walks, one run and two RBIs, and Luke Short was 1 for 3 with two RBIs.
Service’s Garrett Brown was 3 for 4 with one walk and two RBIs, and Braden Mitchell went 2 for 4 with two runs, one unearned, and one walk.
“I was just hoping they would pop one through the gaps so we could get some runs up on the board, because once one good thing happens for a team, they can just feed off of it and start playing better,” Hull said. “The first time up at state, there should be no excuses about fielding, but I think we’re just overexcited.”
Kenai will play the Monroe Catholic Rams from Fairbanks on Friday at 1 p.m. at Mulcahy Park, in the consolation bracket.
“We’ve never met before, and for us, this is the first time we’ve played an Anchorage team this year, and that kid (Ferntheil) that pitched against us, that’s probably one of the best pitchers in the state,” Kennedy said. “We had our opportunities, and we couldn’t get a clutch hit until the last inning.
“You never know, it’s a game of inches, and it’s why we play.”