Two weeks ago, Homer High School’s Lady Mariners secured first place in the Northern Lights Conference for the third consecutive year. They also took the conference’s academic award for the fourth time since 2005.
Unfortunately, the Mariners’ state championship hopes came to an end Saturday at Cartee Fields in Anchorage with a 9-0 loss to Ketchikan, leaving the Mariners in third place in the 2013 Small School State Softball Tournament.
Because of their regular season record, the Lady Mariners were given a first round bye and put in the winners bracket where they faced the Ketchikan Kings, a team who had already blown out Hutchison High in their first round of play.
The Kings held a one run lead through the first three innings until senior Kayla Hutt crushed a three run home run at the top of the fourth. Miranda Beach was not to be outdone; hitting a solo homer of her own in the next inning to give the Mariners a three-run lead.
Ketchikan answered with five more runs in the final two innings with help from four Mariner errors which led to be the difference in the game as the Kings won 6-4. Homer had three earned runs to Ketchikan’s one and had one more base hit than the Kings.
“Unfortunately, the scoreboard tracks all runs,” said Mariner Head Coach Bill Bell. “(We) would have certainly put the whole tournament into a different light if we had taken that first game.”
The Mariners avenged their loss later that day, facing the Kodiak Bears and coming away with a 3-2 victory.
Coach Bell noted that his team had trouble getting runs across the plate, as the Mariners scored all of their runs in the first two innings.
Help came defensively as senior pitcher Hannah LaRue threw all seven innings, striking out 10 Bear batters, and allowing just one earned run. The deciding blow came from another senior, Maggie Graham, who showed off her power — hitting her first ever home run at the bottom of the second inning.
With a state win under their belt, the Mariners were matched up with the Eielson Ravens for their first game on Saturday to determine who would move on to play the Ketchikan Kings later that day.
Both teams turned up their offensive tempo, totaling 24 runs as the Lady Mariners prevailed, 15-9.
Freshman McKi Needham started Homer off with a two-run triple to take the lead in the first inning and the Mariners never trailed, racking up 10 more runs alone in the second. Needham threw five strikeouts in 60 pitches in just over three innings of work, receiving the win despite allowing nine runs cross the plate.
Katie Kirsis and Miranda Beach each had two hits, and Kirsis, Maggie and Hannah LaRue led the team with three RBIs. Kirsis, Beach, Needham and LaRue also each had a triple, and Kayla Hutt had a double.
“We were able to jump out pretty good on them, and we were able to have McKi pitch, to save Hannah for the next game,” Bell said. “She had a good outing and got some good pitches.”
In Homer’s final game of the season they took on the Kings once again to decide their rank among small school competition.
“The Ketchikan bats really came alive,” said Bell. “We tried some different defensive alignments but just could not get our bats consistently going.”
The Mariners were shut out in their final game, 9-0 as Ketchikan’s Lizzie Carson pitched for five strikeouts, two walks and two hits in her five inning shutout performance.
Bell said he was hoping his team had learned enough from that contest to topple the Kings on Saturday and challenge Sitka in the state championship game.
“What I was planning on was that (Friday’s) game, they had five unearned runs, and I was going to pitch Hannah,” Bell said. “They were hitting a lot to right field, and so I wanted to move some of our kids there if I could.”
The only catch was that LaRue sprained her ankle as she was sliding to base on a triple hit against Eielson, so Bell was forced to put Needham on the mound for an inning against Ketchikan.
“I was hoping that us bringing her in would catch them off-guard,” Bell said. “But they were just smacking the ball everywhere. They had a grand slam and everything.”
Homer had two hits total, while Ketchikan got 10, and Stacey Woollery led Ketchikan with a grand slam.
The Kings scored two runs apiece in the first two innings, starting with an RBI double, then put up five runs in the third. From there, Homer wasn’t able to find the hits that they were desperately needing.
Bell said he believes the game might have been closer if LaRue had been 100 percent healthy, but nevertheless said it was a good effort on every player.
“It was just a great season and those teams from the Southeast (Conference) are tough,” he said. “We’re just a notch below them, and we really need to pick up our level of play if we want to beat them next year.”
The Mariners earned third place among the state’s small schools. Ketchikan advanced to the championship game against Sitka, a team they lost to earlier on Saturday in a 12-8 contest.
Sitka took their fourth-straight small-schools championship on Saturday afternoon, edging the Kings 7-6.
Maggie Graham gave her take on the Mariners’ last game of the season: “They really just out hit us. A few fielding errors allowed them to score and then a two run home run and a grand slam didn’t help either.”
Coach Bell said the Mariners tried different defensive alignments but couldn’t get their bats consistently going.
To round out the season, the 17-8 Lady Mariners finished with the best record in the Northern Lights Conference (9-1), took home this year’s Academic Award, as well as had standout players named to the All-Tournament Teams (see brief, page 18).
Bell admitted that he is already starting to make plans and gather ideas to better his squad next year. With six seniors moving on from Mariner Softball, he believes there is enough talent among the Varsity underclassmen and the athletes coming up from JV to fill the void.