For the second time in program history, Soldotna's softball team is participating in the small-schools state tournament today and Saturday at Cartee Fields in Anchorage. The Stars aren't satisfied with just earning a berth to state, they're looking to bring some hardware back to the Kenai Peninsula.
"We're in it to win it, that's for sure," said SoHi senior Lacey Norman at Wednesday's practice. The entire team is going into the tourney with that attitude, she said.
"We can win," Stars head coach Dave Cleveland said. "We can win it all."
SoHi, the No. 2 Northern Lights Conference seed, takes on Sitka today at 9 a.m. NLC No. 1 seed Homer has a first-round bye. The Mariners play the winner of the Delta Junction-Ketchikan game.
The Stars have not faced Sitka this year.
"We just need to focus on our team," Cleveland said. "If we do what we do best, we'll be just fine."
"We just need to play tough, work as a team and have a good attitude," Norman said.
"We all need to do our part on the field," senior Savannah Hegge added.
Win or lose, the Stars will have a second game on Friday. A good start to the day is key for SoHi, Norman said.
"If we win, then we carry on that attitude the rest of the day," she said. "Once we're up, we're up. There's no putting us down."
"We really want to get a good start against Sitka," Cleveland added. "Coming out hot will set the tone for the rest of the tournament."
The Stars missed state last year but went in 2008, finishing fourth. Amandra Cobb was named to the all-tournament team. Norman, who's played all four years, said the current squad is the best SoHi has put together.
Cleveland said he'll look to his handful of girls with state experience to settle down the first-timers. Perhaps what's most reassuring is that Hegge, SoHi's starting pitcher, has been to state twice with Kodiak. The Bears won the small-schools title in 2008.
"She'll be key," Cleveland said of Hegge. "If she can get her groove on right away, watch out, because here we come."
Hegge said she needs to stay composed and not get down on herself.
"I just need to say focused," she said.
Registering hits early will be essential for success, Hegge said. Despite batting well over .400 as a team this season, SoHi has been plagued with slow starts this year, Hegge said.
SoHi is at its best when all three phases of the game -- pitching, hitting and defense -- come together, Cleveland said.
On Wednesday, the team was antsy with anticipation for the start of the tournament.
"We're all excited," Hegge said. "We're all anxious and nervous at the same time."
"They're ready to play," Cleveland said. "They wish it could start in an hour."
SoHi received a major confidence boost when it rallied from seven down to beat NLC foe Homer 13-9 in final game of the regular season on May 30. Both finished with 7-1 NLC records but the Mariners won the conference title on the fourth tiebreaker. "I think the Homer win definitely helped," Hegge said.
"I think we are playing our best ball," Cleveland said.
No matter who the Stars draw as the tourney progresses, the team's we-can-beat-anybody attitude will be there, Norman said.
"We're gonna bring our hardest," she said.
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