If the weather forecasters are correct, the season that really hasn’t been is about to be.
After a cold, wet spring has laid waste to the prep baseball season, forecasters are calling for a dry and relatively warm Northern Lights Conference baseball tournament at Wasilla and Houston high schools. Friday and Saturday, there could even the appearance of that “sun” thing we’ve been hearing so much about.
Kenai’s Central’s plight has been typical of baseball teams this year.
“Normally, the season is spread out over four weeks,” Kardinals coach John Kennedy said. “This year, it was spread out over two.”
The Kardinals actually got nine games in, more than a lot of teams.
“Today was our sixth practice outdoors, and we’ve played nine games,” Kennedy said. “That’s been the biggest frustration for me. I haven’t been able to get the kids on the field. I haven’t been able to get them communicating and knowing what they need to do in certain situations.”
The Kardinals went 6-3 overall and in the league to earn the second seed from the Southern Division. That earns them a 10 a.m. matchup today against Palmer, No. 3 from the north. Kenai defeated Palmer earlier in the season.
The top two teams from the tourney advance to state. The most direct way to state is to win in Thursday’s first round, Thursday’s semifinals and then Friday’s championship. The tough way to state is to earn a bid by coming back through the second-place bracket.
The Kardinals did just that last season, earning a state berth in the program’s second year of existence.
The three Peninsula coaches all thought Colony has the best chance of repeating as champion, but also said anything can happen in a baseball tournament.
“I like our chances,” Kennedy said. “Everybody’s record is the same at this point. Who knows what is going to happen?”
Depth in pitching is essential at the tournament, and Kennedy likes his lineup of Dallas Pierren, Miles Jones, Tay Harling and Ethan Oliver.
Another key thing will be defense. Kennedy said his squad struggled to start the year, but has been coming around with more field experience.
He said Pierren and Hector Rivera are leading the charge on offense, while Justin Wisnewski and Jake Conver also have been dangerous at the plate. Kennedy said if Harling and Oliver get hot, the Kards will be hard to stop.
“We have to come out and play great defense,” Kennedy said. “On offense, we have to put the ball in play and run the bases. Make them get us out, don’t get ourselves out.”
The Stars went 2-7 to earn the fourth seed from the south and a date with Colony at 1 p.m. at Wasilla. Colony is No. 1 from the north. Colony just defeated SoHi 12-2 on Saturday behind the strong pitching of Jonathan Boyer.
“That guy threw as hard as anybody we have seen this year, if not harder,” George Stein said.
Stein, whose squad last went to state in 2011, said to make a run his team needs pitchers to throw strikes and batters to get clutch hits.
Stein thinks Tyler Fritz and Max Conradi are up to the task of throwing strikes.
As for clutch hits? Every coach would like to know how to make that happen.
Stein said seniors Fritz, Shayne Miller and Gavin Larson have led the team on offense this season.
Homer, No. 3 from the south, starts with Wasilla, No. 2 from the North, Thursday at 10 a.m. at Wasilla.
Homer coach Larry Kuhns, whose team last went to state in 2009, said his Mariners will be playing with a chip on their shoulder.
Kuhns said Homer (3-4) had games scheduled with Palmer and Wasilla last weekend, and was willing to do whatever it took to make those games happen.
Kuhns said Palmer and Wasilla did not have the same attitude and it cost the Mariners games.
“This past weekend should have been the biggest weekend in the conference and it ended up being a nothing weekend,” Kuhns said.
He said players put in a lot of time practicing in a gym, and it’s going to be hard to convince them to keep doing that for seven regular season games. He said he will try to sweeten the deal for next year’s team by making a trip to a camp in Arizona.
“It hurts the future of the program,” Kuhns said. “Our JV program only played three games. Why would they put in effort and sweat for three games?”
This will be the backdrop when the Mariners face the Warriors.
Kuhns said he has the talent to make a run in the tournament.
On the mound, Zach Haning hasn’t lost and has given up two earned runs in 15 innings. Noah Jette has given up two earned runs in seven innings, while Lucas Schneider also has pitched well. Kuhns also said Tommy Bowe is an option for deep in the tournament.
Kuhns said just a few shaky innings of defense led to the team’s three losses. Those innings must be avoided at the tournament.
Bowe, Schneider and Brian Rowe lead the team on offense. Kuhns said the supporting cast on offense, like Jette and Derek Johnson, also has been coming along.