Soldotna answered Homer's seven-run fourth inning with nine runs in the fifth to lead the Stars past the visiting Mariners 13-9 in Northern Lights Conference play on Saturday. The game concluded the regular season for both teams.
SoHi and Homer finished 7-1 in the conference but the Mariners will head into the state tournament as the No. 1 seed from the NLC as a result of having more wins against common, nonconference opponents -- the fourth tiebreaker. If a fifth tiebreaker was needed, a coin flip would have determined the conference champs.
For Stars head coach Dave Cleveland, Saturday's win proves his team is tops in the NLC.
"They might have won on a tiebreaker, but I feel we won," he said.
Cleveland said it was great to notch a victory over their rivals.
"Every year we're battling with them," he said. "Big time bragging rights."
Trailing 9-2 after four innings, the Stars exploded for nine runs in the bottom of the fifth to take an 11-9 lead. After a Brittnie Thayer single, Homer's Sydney Sligh walked three straight. Savannah Hegge then singled to cut the deficit to 9-4 and keep the bases loaded.
Amandra Cobb singled to drive in two runs. Nikki Hegge then hit a standup double to score two runs and cut Homer's lead to one. Lacey Norman recorded an RBI single to tie the game.
Brianna VinZant gave SoHi the lead when she brought Norman across the plate. Alicia Stafford bobbled VinZant's hit, which allowed her to reach first base safely and Norman to come home. Savannah got her second hit of the inning when she ripped an RBI double to give the Stars a two-run lead after five innings.
"It was perfect for us to come back and answer their big inning with one of ours," Cleveland said. "It was a big step for us emotionally."
The win is a good boost of confidence for the girls heading into state, Cleveland said.
"It's a great momentum builder for us," he said. "It's a great high to end the season on."
Homer looked poised to tie the game with the bases loaded in the top of the sixth, however, Ashley Ketelle was called out for leaving second base prior to the pitch. Savannah then struck out the next two batters to get out of the jam.
SoHi's offense went back to work in the bottom of the sixth. Natalie Kress led off with a triple. Norman brought her home with an RBI single. Later in the inning, VinZant hit a standup double to drive in a run and give SoHi a 13-9 lead.
After a slow start, Cleveland said his team tightened up its bats and ran the bases well. He said the girls get into a zone and continue hitting.
After sprinkling in Norman and VinZant throughout the game mostly pitched by Savannah, Cleveland went back to his starter to close it out. After getting a ground out and a fly out to start the inning, Savannah walked to next two batters. She put those walks out of her mind and struck out Lauren Cashman to end the game.
Cleveland said he didn't hesitate giving the ball back to Savannah.
"She did great," he said.
Sligh was almost unhittable to start the game. She recorded the first six outs by herself, all on strikeouts. The Mariners held a 2-0 lead after the top of the third.
In the bottom of the inning, SoHi began to figure Sligh out. After singles by Thayer and Alisah Kress, Savannah drove both home with a single to tie the game.
Even when trailing big, Cleveland told his team: "We're still in it to the end. That's why I love seven-inning games."
Prior to the game, SoHi's graduating seniors were honored. Those included Savannah, Norman, Thayer and Mariah Darrow.
Saturday's win was a large step in the maturation process for the Stars, Cleveland said.
"I think as a whole the team grew up today," he said. "Today, they learned how to win."
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