After a spirited run at one of the top softball teams in the state, the Homer Mariners fell just shy of competing for another small-schools state championship.
Instead, the Mariners settled for third place at the Alaska School Activities Association state softball tournament after nearly toppling Juneau-Douglas in the semifinals Saturday afternoon at Cartee Fields in Anchorage. Juneau went on to win the small-schools state championship, beating Ketchikan 9-4.
“You know, the way our season started off, to go from 0-13 to third at state is satisfying,” said Homer coach Bill Bell. “We can’t wait for next year.”
Homer finished third for the second consecutive year.
In a double-elimination bracket format, Homer had to play its way through a 9 a.m. game Saturday morning just to get a chance in the semifinals.
Juneau-Douglas 13, Homer 5
Homer led 5-2 as late as the sixth inning, but the Crimson Bears poured on the offense in the sixth and seventh innings to advance to the championship game.
Starting pitcher McKi Needham was ejected in the bottom of the third for “malicious contact” at home plate.
“She’s our No. 1, so not having her hurt us,” Bell said.
After Riley Walls scored on a single from Larsen Fellows, Needham scored on a bunt from Kayla Stafford to give Homer a 2-0 lead. However, the umpire took exception to Needham’s home plate move.
Interestingly enough, it may have improved Homer’s situation. After Bell put JV pitcher Jordan Raymond in to replace Needham, the slower speed of Raymond’s pitches threw off Juneau’s batters.
“We were playing really well, it was probably our best game all year,” Bell said. “It was so satisfying, especially after being beaten by them yesterday.”
The change resulted in no runs from Juneau until the fourth inning, and only two until the sixth.
“Her pitching was slowing them up and giving them ground balls,” Bell said.
Bell put Pam Jantzi in for Raymond after one inning, but Raymond came back after Juneau knocked in a couple runs off Jantzi. Needham was replaced in the batting lineup by Kyle Pitzman.
Isabel Beach reached base on a Juneau error in the fourth inning, which allowed Walls to score for a 3-2 Homer lead. Homer added to its lead in the bottom of the fifth with a steal of home plate by Stafford and a double from Maggie LaRue that scored Mary Hanna Bowe.
Heading into the sixth inning, Homer led 5-2, but the Mariners began committing errors.
Sami Good and Rachelle Roldon scored on an error from Walls on a Kaitlyn Fagerstorm hit, then Andrea Gordon doubled to center field that brought Fagerstorm in to score the tying run.
The go-ahead run came when Gracie Meiners let loose a double to left field that brought Gordon home, putting Juneau up 6-5.
In the seventh inning, Meiners hit a two-run double, Emma Good hit a two-run single, and Sophie Hultberg added a home run to give Juneau an oppressive lead.
“We had one inning with a couple errors,” Bell conceded. “Our defense was really solid, but Juneau was just hitting line drivers to the outfield.”
Overall, Juneau outhit Homer 13-6. Five Juneau players recorded two hits apiece.
For Homer, LaRue hit 2 for 2 with an RBI.
Homer 13, Kodiak 5
Earlier in the day, Homer got the better of its Northern Lights Conference rival in a blowout win.
“We just wanted to show to them, that even though we were tied in the conference, we were the better team,” Bell said.
Beach, Fellows, Needham, LaRue and Lauren Kuhns each provided two hits. Beach and LaRue also batted in two runs, and Beach knocked out a triple.
Needham went six innings on the mound, giving up four hits and two runs (none earned), and striking out two. Malina Fellows finished up the final inning with one hit, one earned run and one strikeout.
Not only did Kodiak commit eight errors, but Homer outhit the Bears 14-5.
“It’s definitely a good rivalry,” Bell said. “They have real nice kids and nice coaches, and we make it a point to play with them.”
Homer scored a run in each of the first two innings. Walls’ single brought LaRue home to put Homer up on the board first, and Bowe scored in the second after tagging up.
Homer then scored two runs in both the fourth and fifth innings, one in the sixth and ended with four runs in the seventh. Kodiak scored four runs in the sixth inning and one in the seventh.