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Big League takes title

Posted: Monday, July 17, 2000

Due to the number of people on the team, some people said this season that the Soldotna Big League softball team was in trouble.

Don't tell that to anyone in Anchorage.

The team of 16- to 18-year-olds from Homer, Kenai and Soldotna became the Alaska Big League Softball Champions Sunday when a scheduled championship game with Abbott-O-Rabbit in Anchorage was rained out.

Because Soldotna had the advantage in tiebreakers, they were declared winners of the Tournament of Champions.

Soldotna finished 3-1 in the tournament and the team's biggest victory came Saturday against AOR, which came into the game undefeated.

Big League, behind pitchers Jamie Carr and Jessica Foster, had the game under control the first five innings. The pitching duo held AOR to one run while not issuing a single walk.

"Our defense performed extremely well, especially up the middle with Morgan Mize at catcher and Foster and Carisa Sparks alternating at shortstop," Soldotna coach Tom Sparks said. "We also had solid outfield play and some good plays at first by Jennifer Stout.

"We made the plays when we needed to and our pitchers kept us in the game with some big strikeouts to end AOR rallies."

Soldotna had a 4-1 lead after five innings thanks to timely hitting from Mize, Sparks and JR Zufelt. However, in the sixth AOR tied the game at 4-4 on a hit-and-run and some mental miscues by Soldotna.

Soldotna didn't score in the bottom of the sixth inning, but the bottom of its order put it in position to win in the seventh.

"They had their ace pitcher, Nancy Hibbirt, throwing, who was a standout pitcher this season for the state champion Service High School team," Sparks said. "I was worried because she pitched a no-hitter against us earlier in the season and she really throws hard.

"We started the inning with two strikeouts to my fifth and sixth hitters. I needed to get at least two runners on base in order to bring up the top of the order in the seventh."

Both Sarah Christensen and Foster came through by battling through long counts to get on base. Christensen had a single while Foster walked.

AOR took a 5-4 lead in the seventh, but Sparks said Soldotna was confident with the top of the order coming up.

Dudley started the inning by flying out to center, but Carr followed with a single after fouling off five pitches.

Mize was hit by a pitch and Zufelt walked to load the bases and give Carisa Sparks a chance to win the game.

"Carisa had the same battle as everyone in the inning," coach Sparks said. "She kept fouling pitches off and worked the count full.

"Hibbirt was getting frustrated because she is accustomed to striking players out and my players would not go down."

Sparks hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game and bring up Sondra Mize with two out and runners on first and second. Mize hit a slow roller to the shortstop. As she was beating out the play for a hit, Morgan Mize sped around third and scored.

"I'm glad Morgan was alert enough to go home on the play because I was looking at Sondra trying to will her to run faster," Sparks said. "What a great day and a great team."

From the Tournament of Champions, an all-star team is picked to play in the Western Regional in Seattle starting July 28.

Six players from Soldotna Big League were picked, but only Kenai's Sarah Christensen, Soldotna's Kari Dudley and Homer's Nikki Fry can make the trip south.

Sparks said girls from Seward, Nikiski or anyplace else on the peninsula can play on the team if they are 16 to 18. To sign up, call any Little League office on the peninsula or call Soldotna Little League at 262-1757.



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