The Homer baseball team defeated Southcentral Conference foes Palmer and Soldotna on Saturday in Homer to earn a trip to the state baseball tournament starting Thursday at Hermon Brothers Field in Palmer.
The Mariners came into Saturday's games with two losses in the conference, meaning they would have to sweep both games in order to end up tied with Kodiak, which also had two losses. Homer had beaten Kodiak earlier in the season, so the Mariners controlled the tiebreaker.
After defeating Palmer 7-3 to put the Moose at 0-5 in the conference, a pair of 2-2 teams faced off in Homer and Soldotna. The Mariners won 4-1 to join undefeated conference champion Colony at state.
Soldotna, which went to state last year, would not have went to state even by defeating Homer because the Stars would have tied with Kodiak, and Kodiak controlled the tiebreaker. Soldotna had defeated Palmer 10-3 on Friday in Soldotna.
"It was an excellent season," Soldotna coach Robb Quelland said. "The young men had what it took to move around and play different positions, and we were able to do some building for next year."
The Stars will lose seniors Justice Elson and Jordan Brown. With so many returners and a strong freshmen class, Quelland said his team will be as strong or stronger next season.
Homer was not the only winner in Saturday's game, as the duel of strong pitchers also showed the American Legion Twins will have two solid arms on which to count this season.
Homer's Josh Gilbert shut the Stars down on just one hit in seven innings. Soldotna's lone run came in the fifth inning, when Elson reached on a hit, stole second and moved to third on a bunt. A balk then sent Elson home to cut the lead to 3-1.
Elson also was on-target for the Stars in his six innings of work. Quelland said Homer's runs -- three in the third and one in the fifth -- were all unearned.
"You're talking about two of the best pitchers in the conference," Quelland said, adding that the game took just 1 hour, 20 minutes. "Josh was on track and had his control today."
In Friday's game, the Stars used a solid effort on the mound from Beau Sisson and a seven-run second inning to top Palmer.
With the game upcoming on Saturday, it was important that Sisson deliver in order to save Elson for the game against the Mariners.
Sisson came through, pitching five innings and yielding four hits and two runs, only one of which was earned. He had six strikeouts and did not walk a batter.
"The strike zone was small so I had to hit my mark," Sisson said. "I was just trying to get ground balls."
Quelland said keeping the ball down in the zone is key for Sisson.
"Beau came out phenomenal," Quelland said. "He's one of the best, if not the best, control pitchers on our team. His only problems come when he leaves the ball up."
The Moose struck for two runs and three hits in the top of the first inning, with AJ Corbin knocking in Tommy Brown and Tim Rockey singling home Corbin. After that, Sisson gave up just one more hit.
Sisson, who would finish 2-for-4, helped eat into the gap in the bottom of the first, when he singled to score Jake Darrow.
Then came the decisive second inning. Steven Steger, who finished 2-for-4, singled to score Brown, who finished 2-for-4, and Nick Pokryfki. Brown, batting for the second time in the inning, singled to score Stan Westerman and Sisson.
Palmer gave Soldotna plenty of help in the inning, as Elson, Braden Price and Darrow scored on a passed ball, error and balk, respectively.
"That was the telltale sign of our season," said Palmer coach Dave Combs. "They can't seem to put it all together. They'll play really well, then they'll lose focus."
Palmer hurler Isaac Courson ended up pitching six innings and giving up six earned runs and eight hits. He walked three and struck out seven.
Soldotna picked up its final two runs of the game in the fifth, when Price singled to score Steger, then scored on a passed ball.
The Stars were aggressive on the base paths all day, stealing seven bases.
"Our aggressive base running was a plus," Quelland said. "We have four kids that have the green light. We had a lot of self-made runs."
The coach also was thrilled with his team's defense, which committed just three errors even though Steger and Pokryfki were playing out-of-position in the infield.
DJ Stilchen also came through in relief, allowing two hits and an earned run in two innings of work. He walked two and struck out two.
Palmer's run off Stilchen came in the sixth, when Brown walked and scored on a single by Rockey, who finished 2-for-3.
Combs said after the game that Dan Schlott and Brown gave the team focused games at the plate and in the field.
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