Behind their senior workhorse pitcher Tyler Hansen, the Wasilla Warriors claimed their first Southcentral Conference title in 13 years after a 4-1 victory over the Colony Knights on Friday at the Soldotna Little League fields.
Hansen went the distance with five strikeouts and four hits allowed. He said his game plan going into the game was to keep the ball low and throw a lot of strikes. The southpaw’s only blemish was a solo home run to Colony catcher Kevin Hale in the third inning.
“My curveball was on today, which helped a lot,” he said. “I watched out for certain guys in the lineup because it’s a small field so I didn’t want to give up any home runs. My defense helped me out, I can’t be more grateful.”
After Hansen recorded the final out, his teammates threw their gloves in the air and mobbed him on the mound. The Warriors included head coach Jason Terryberry in on the celebration and dumped water on him, which left a big grin on his face.
“That felt good,” Terryberry said and then acknowledged the performance of Hansen, the Northern Division Player of the Year. “(Hansen) is our leader and having him out there we knew we had the best chance to get a W and he came through for us. He has been a rock all year.”
The wind blew from left to right across the diamond as the infield dirt swirled around during the conference title game. In a battle for a trip to state on the line between the two Valley teams, the Warriors struck first blood with two runs in the first and two in the second that chased Colony senior pitcher Ryan Judd after 1 1-3 innings.
Hansen drove in the Warriors’ first run with a single that scored Mitchell Chauvin and Blake Marks followed with a ground-out that scored Jeffrey Forster to take an early 2-0 lead.
After he allowed the first three hitters to reach base in the first, Judd found himself in trouble to start the second. A single by Wasilla centerfielder Nolan Monaghan and a walk to Chauvin sandwiched around a bunt put runners at first and second with one out.
Colony head coach Jordan Chadwell replaced Judd with Logan Sanders and things got worse before they got better. An error and two wild pitches scored the next two runs and Wasilla had a 4-0 lead.
Sanders settled down afterward and only gave up a double to Chauvin in the fourth, but followed that up with a strikeout on Hansen to end the threat. Sanders pitched 4 2-3 innings with three strikeouts and two walks. Chadwell said Sanders stepped up and kept the Knights in the game.
“He has been a big help on the team throughout the season and nothing that changed today,” Chadwell said. “It could have been pretty ugly early.”
Mistakes by baserunners cost Colony opportunities to do more damage at the plate as the Knights were picked off at first base three times in the game. After a single by Colony’s Matt Palmer in the top of the fourth, Hansen threw over to first and caught Palmer between first and second in a failed stolen base attempt.
In their next inning with runners at first and second and Dalton McHugill at the plate, Hansen caught Hale leaning too far off the bag and he was called out at first to end the inning.
“We were not mentally prepared for the game, didn’t make good adjustments and I thought that was part of it,” Chadwell said. “We were on the pitcher from the start but we couldn’t come around as a team.”
Terryberry said Hansen showed composure in the fifth inning, although he noticed his pitcher started to pay more attention to the runners so he went up for his only mound visit of the game. He said he told Hansen to not worry about the runners and with two outs, just concentrate on the batter. Hansen then threw over to first for the final out of the inning.
“Colony is a great hitting team,” Terryberry said. “We knew they would hit the ball and as long as we kept it in the park, we had a chance. It’s a good win for Wasilla and hopefully we will see them down in Sitka.”
Hansen said the win against their rival and defending conference champions is a great moment in his senior year, but they have more to accomplish this season at the state tournament in Sitka.
“This was our expectation from the get-go,” he said. “We are going to have fun tonight but we are going to come back Monday and practice hard because we want to do well at state and leave our print there. We hung a banner up that hasn’t been done in 13 years.”
Colony 15, Kodiak 10
The Knights earned a state berth by winning the second-place game Saturday.
Colony ended up handing Kodiak both of its losses at the double-elimination tournament.
The Bears were in good position for the state berth through five innings, taking a 7-3 lead into the sixth. But Colony scored 11 runs in the sixth inning to take command of the game.
Errors were costly for Kodiak. The Knights got just six hits, but took advantage of 10 Kodiak errors. Kodiak had 10 hits, but Colony made four errors.
HcHugill had a big game for the Knights, finishing 2 for 4 with three runs and three RBIs. Matt Palmer also was 2 for 3.
For Kodiak, Tyler Jester was 2 for 4 with two runs and two RBIs while Josiah Chya and Sam Bennett also added two hits. Austin Frick also earned Southern Division Player of the Year honors for the Bears.
Kodiak 7, Palmer 6
If it wasn’t for the Kodiak Bears, the Palmer Moose may have been gearing up for a trip to Sitka. The Moose were handed both of their losses in the double-elimination tournament by the Bears, including Saturday’s setback in the second-place semifinals.
After winning back-to-back games on the loser’s bracket on Friday, Kodiak squashed Palmer’s state tournament bid hopes Saturday.
Kodiak rallied with four runs during the final two innings, and scored twice in the seventh to cap a come-from-behind victory over Palmer.
Palmer took a 6-3 lead into the sixth inning. The Moose trailed early, but exploded with four runs in the fourth. Cameron Jensen reached on a fielder’s choice and scored Palmer’s first run of the inning. Adam Christiansen followed with a double, and later scored on a Keegan Larson single. Larson and Daniel Jackson also scored runs in the inning.
Peyton Garrettson led the Moose with a pair of hits in the loss. Larson drove in a pair of runs. Christiansen scored twice.
For Kodiak, Myles Wilson had two RBIs, Jon LeVan had two hits, and Jester and Jakob Arnold scored two runs apiece.
Soldotna 2, 5 innings
The Bears used a 15-hit attack Friday to move past the Stars and into the second-place semifinals.
With the wind howling toward the outfield, the Bears took control of the game in the top of the first inning by striking for six runs on eight hits against SoHi starter Klayton Justice.
The Bears have seven seniors in the lineup, and those seniors clearly were not ready for their careers to end Friday.
“It was exciting to hit the way we did,” said Kodiak coach James Arnold, the conference’s Coach of the Year. “We’ve been working hard on it all year.
“We leaned on our seniors and they got us to the next game.”
The Bears had big performances up and down the lineup, with every position in the order notching a hit.
Wilson was 3 for 4 with a run and RBI, LeVan was 2 for 3 with three runs, Jester scored twice, Aaron Polasky scored three times, Arnold was 3 for 4 with a run and two RBIs, and Chya was 3 for 4 with a run and three RBIs.
“They had a lot of hits in that first inning, although there were a couple of plays we missed,” SoHi coach George Stein said. “It seemed like every ball they were hitting on the ground was getting through.”
The early six-run cushion would be more than enough for Sam Kirchenschlager on the mound. He gave up two runs — just one earned — on four hits while walking two and striking out five.
In the second, SoHi got its first run when Tyler Covey doubled and came around to score on a throwing error.
In the third, Kenny Griffin, who finished 3 for 3, unloaded on a home run to center field. Griffin, just a sophomore, was named first-team all conference. He will enroll at Phillips Academy in Massachusetts in the fall.
It was the second home run of the day for Griffin, which had him rapidly climbing the SoHi record books. No player in the eight-year history of the program has hit two home runs in a season or a career. Griffin also finished a full season without striking out, joining Josiah Covey as the only other Stars player to do that.
Justice pitched four innings for SoHi, yielding 11 runs on 13 hits. Max Conradi pitched the last inning and gave up four unearned runs on two hits.
Stein said a 9-5 win early in the day against Homer is something the program can use to build.
“The kids kept battling as we went along,” Stein said. “It was nice to win a game at regions.
“We need to build the numbers in the program and get to 20 or 30 in order to do what we need to do.”
Palmer 17, Houston 6
The Moose broke open a close game with a seventh-inning rally to eliminate the Hawks and move to the second-place semifinals on Friday afternoon.
Palmer led 8-6 heading into the seventh, but the Moose scored nine runs on seven hits to take control. Christiansen’s home run capped the scoring in the inning.
Christiansen scored three runs in the game, while Wyatt McKechinie had four runs and also homered.
Soldotna 9, Homer 5
Early Friday, the Stars beat the Mariners for the first time in three tries this season to advance in the second-place bracket.
“We lost to Homer twice, but I always felt we could play with them,” Stein said. “We kept losing to them in the last inning.”
Stein said pitchers Covey and Conradi were key in the victory.
Covey went the first six innings, giving up five runs on four hits. Conradi pitched a hitless and scoreless final inning.
Griffin scored in the first to give the Stars a 1-0 lead, but Greg Smith, Tommy Bowe and Michael Swoboda scored with two outs to give the Mariners a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the first. Bowe, a first-team, all-conference performer, homered for the second time in the tourney to score Smith, while Swoboda singled and later scored.
In the top of the second, Covey, Terrance Slats, Joey Becher, Griffin and Calvin Hills scored to give the Stars a lead they would not relinquish.
Homer would cut the lead to 6-5 in the third on runs by Bowe and Wylie Donich (who finished 3 for 3), but SoHi came back with three in the fourth.
Becher walked to lead off the inning and Griffin connected on a two-run home run. Justice Miller would later walk and score in the inning.
Palmer 10, Kenai 9, 9 inn.
The Moose came back from a 6-0 deficit early Friday to eliminate the Kardinals and advance in the second-place bracket.
“We had chances to win the game, but we gave it away three times,” Kenai coach John Kennedy said.
The Kards scored three in the first and three in the second to take the early advantage.
For Kenai, Miles Jones gave up two earned runs in the first two innings.
After that, Kenai had to go deep into its pitching rotation.
“We threw five guys today,” Kennedy said. “Give the guys credit. They kept battling.
“We just ran out of pitching arms.”
Palmer got back in the game as Gabe Boyle gave up four runs — just two earned — in one inning, Zack Selinger pitched two scoreless innings, Sam Combs gave up three runs — two earned — in three innings and Nate O’Lena gave up the winning run, which was unearned, in 2-3 innings of work.
Kennedy said Combs’ three innings were a highlight for him.
“The big thing this season is kids are learning how to play baseball at this level,” Kennedy said. “I hope, pitchingwise, Sam learned something about himself today.”
Despite all the pitching changes, Kenai still had an excellent chance to win the game.
A dropped fly ball cost the Kards four runs.
In the top of the eighth, Kenai scored one run, but it could have been two if Ellery Steffensen’s hot shot up the middle hadn’t hit the mound and popped up in the air for an out.
In the ninth, Palmer scored the winning run on a dropped third strike where catcher Dallas Pierren and first baseman Combs couldn’t connect for the out.
“Like I told the boys, ‘That’s baseball,’” Kennedy said. “I told them I’m proud of the way we improved since we started March 10.
“It’s like night and day. These kids aren’t the same kids that walked in on March 10.”
Pierren, a first-team, all-conference performer, had a monster game at the plate, homering for the second time in the tournament and finishing 4 for 5 with two runs and six RBIs.
Paul Steffensen was 2 for 4 with three runs and Ellery Steffensen had two runs and two RBIs for the Kards.
Kevin Christopher was 3 for 4 with three runs, four RBIs and a home run for Palmer, while Daniel Jackson also homered and went 2 for 4 with two runs.
Elias Stratton pitched all nine innings for Palmer, giving up 10 hits and six earned runs. He walked five and struck out 13.
Frontiersman and Clarion staff contributed to this report.