When the Homer softball team begins play today at the ASAA state tournament, it will mark the fifth year in a row the Mariners have contended for a state title.
More importantly, it’ll mark 12 out of the last 13 seasons a state championship was in view for them. 2008 was the only year in that span that they missed out.
“These girls work pretty hard. They come in expecting to play well,” said Homer coach Bill Bell. “It’s the end of the year.”
In addition to Homer’s significant run of state championship berths, the Mariners have ended the regular season as Northern Lights Conference champs four years running.
On the Mariners’ website, “Every Varsity player must successfully bunt 10 balls in a row and fair off machine to win a seat on the train to state” is stated, exemplifying Bell’s standard of excellence for his team.
However, as nice as it is to compete in the state tournament, it’s even better to win it all.
That’s where the squad is hoping to change recent history, beginning today at Cartee Fields in Anchorage. Homer has played in the championship game the past two seasons, only to lose it both times to Sitka — by scores of 8-0 in 2011 and 14-12 a year ago.
“Southeast is tough, they don’t have a strong female soccer program, so they get a lot of girls out for softball,” Bell explained. “They have a good selection of athletes, and they practice year-round.
“I think we’ve got something for them this year. We’ve played them those two times but we’ve talked to coaches about them, and it sounds like Sitka, Ketchikan and us are the top three teams at state.”
Homer had the chance to size itself up against the Wolves this year in the first week of May, but lost two games with scores of 6-2 and 8-7.
Bell said he thinks his team is more prepared this time around, should they meet Sitka again.
“We were playing in the rain, we had McKi (Needham) pitching her first game, and it was our first games of the season,” he said. “It’ll come down to a turkey shoot on Friday. It comes down to who plays clean and crisp and who can hit it.”
One of the girls that Bell will be relying on for hits is senior Miranda Beach, who was recently selected as the National Fastpitch Coaches Association West Region player of the week. The award encompassed 13 states total in the western region of the United States.
“That just totally blew me away,” Bell said. “The thing that was different about that award was that this one had nothing to do with me. I didn’t nominate her, it was the computer that picked her.”
Beach, who usually plays second base but has been a shortstop in recent games, was recorded with 12-for-18 batting for the week of May 6 through 12. In that five-game stretch, she scored nine runs and batted in 13.
Along with Beach, coach Bell said Kayla Hutt and Katie Kirsis should contribute with their hitting power.
Senior Hannah LaRue will be getting the most time pitching, as she has most of the season, and Needham will be backing her up.
Bell said he has also brought up Hailey Hughes and Brenna Evarts from the JV team to help at state.
Homer, which ended with a regular season record of 15-6 (9-1 in the NLC), gets a first-round bye for the state tourney, along with the Mid-Alaska Conference champs Eielson. The Mariners will play the winner of the Hutchison-Ketchikan game today at 3 p.m.
If they win that first game, then it’s on to Saturday at 9 a.m. If not, then they will see a quick turnaround and play Friday at 5 p.m. against the loser of the Sitka-Kodiak game.
“I hate having the first-round bye, because it means we’re playing a team that doesn’t have those first-game jitters,” Bell said. “But we just need to keep that cohesive teamwork going and not worry about what the other person is thinking.
“We’re good at that. When things start to go against us, we manage to pull it together and not get flustered.”