Soldotna finished 1-1 in its first day of the small-schools state softball tournament in Anchorage on Friday. The Stars fell to Sitka 8-3 in the first game but defeated Northern Lights Conference rival Homer 9-5 in the second game, knocking the Mariners out of the tournament.
Neither team scored more than two runs in any of the seven innings in the Sitka game, Stars head coach Dave Cleveland said.
"Just a couple small mental errors gave them some extra runs," he said. "It was a lot tighter than the score.
"We weren't giving them a lot," Cleveland added. "We just gave them a couple here and there."
SoHi's starting pitcher, Savannah Hegge, took a line drive to the head in the top of the seventh inning and had to leave the game, Cleveland said. She did not play against Homer.
"It was a pretty hard shot," Cleveland said.
The blow caused Savannah's nose to bleed and swelling around her eye, Cleveland said. Though dazed, Savannah had her bearings.
When asked her name and where she was, Savannah responded, "I'm Savannah Hegge and I'm pitching in the state softball tournament in Anchorage," Cleveland said.
Seeing their top hurler go down was devastating to the team, he said.
"They were kind of demoralized after that," Cleveland said.
Despite the injury, Savannah told Cleveland she wanted to play on Saturday.
"She's a tough kid," he said.
SoHi's top five batters typically average .400 in games, Cleveland said. But they combined for a .250 average against Sitka, he said.
"We were hitting the ball. We were just hitting it right to them," he said.
"They played pretty well," Cleveland said of his girls. "That's a pretty good team we played against."
Cleveland said his team had chances to score, but left eight base runners stranded.
"We were getting on. We just weren't getting timely hitting," he said.
Mariah Darrow batted 2-for-4 with two RBIs to lead the team.
"She had a very good game," Cleveland said.
Nikki Hegge was 2-for-3 and Lacey Norman went 2-for-3 with an RBI.
The game against Homer was all about Savannah.
"They said they wanted to play it for Savannah," Cleveland said of his team. "It was really nice to come back and win after Savannah got hurt."
Cleveland said most teams would have folded after seeing their starting pitcher go down, but his girls played even harder. "I was really proud of them," he said.
SoHi's determination was not lost on Homer.
"They were playing inspired for her," Mariners head coach Bill Bell said.
The Stars answered Homer's two runs in the top of the second with five runs in the bottom of the inning. SoHi added three runs in the third inning and one in the fourth. Four full innings were played before the 90-minute time limit ended the game.
"The girls just played very well," Cleveland said.
Nikki pitched 1 1-3 innings and Brianna VinZant went 2 2-3.
Defense keyed the victory, Cleveland said.
Brittnie Thayer was one example. In the second inning with the bases loaded, Thayer made a catch near the fence in center field for the third out.
"She caught it right at the edge," Cleveland said. "If that ball had gotten by, they would have scored at least two runs."
SoHi responded with five runs to take the lead.
"That was a big, big inning," Cleveland said.
Hitting, too, improved from the first game.
"Our bats woke up a little bit in that game," Cleveland said.
Darrow again led the Stars with three RBIs. She went 3-for-3 and had a double.
"Mariah is just tearing it up," Cleveland said.
VinZant went 1-for-3. Her lone hit was a ground-rule double that drove in two runs. Amandra Cobb batted 2-for-3 with an RBI and Alisah Kress had an RBI and scored twice.
"The team as a whole stepped up," Cleveland said. "It was a good bounce-back game."
Bell said SoHi capitalized on Homer's mistakes.
Homer, which came into the tourney as the NLC's top seed, lost its first game to Ketchikan 4-3 in extra innings. The Kings steamrolled Delta Junction 17-0 in their first game.
The Mariners were up 3-2 in the last inning, but Ketchikan tied it up. The 90-minute time limit expired, so extra innings were needed.
In extra innings at the state tournament, the inning begins with the batter responsible for the last out on second base to expedite the game. Ketchikan drove in the winning run on a bunt, Bell said. In other Friday action, Sitka beat Monroe Catholic 8-0. Monroe then eliminated Delta 17-1.
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