Story last updated at 1:55 p.m. Thursday, May 30, 2002

Mariners bat their way to State tourney
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

photo: sports
  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
David Drake celebrates making State by lifting pitcher Johnny Taylor off the ground. Taylor did not allow Valdez an earned run in seven innings pitched.  
It came down to the final two games of the season and the Homer High School baseball team needed to beat an undefeated Valdez team twice to earn a trip to State.

Now, after they posted a 5-0 shutout on Friday and an 8-3 win on Saturday, the Mariners are packing their bags for the trip to Palmer, the site of the baseball championships.

The wins made it a clean sweep on the home stand for the Mariners, who took both games of a doubleheader against Kodiak Thursday. The Mariners trounced the Bears 13-4 and won a tight one 6-5 in game two.

Against Valdez, the Mariners were in a must-win situation, something Homer coach Lary Kuhns was fairly sure his team could handle. But following the 5-0 shut out, junior first baseman Adam Crum was supremely confident the Mariners would finish the Buccaneers off and claim the conference berth to State.

photo: sports
  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
Tom Crandall breaks off second base during Homer's 8-3 win over Valdez. The win clinched a berth to the state championships for the Mariners.  
"We have to win and we're going to win," Crum said after Friday's game. "We weren't supposed to be this good. But here we are and we just shut out an unbeaten team."

Kuhns was ecstatic with his team's pitching and defense.

Ben Kuhns, David Drake and freshman Johnny Taylor combined to pitch a four-hitter.

"That was a great effort by three pitchers," Kuhns said. "And every time we needed the defense to step up, they did."

photo: sports
  Photo by Sepp Jannotta, Homer News
David Drake celebrates making State by lifting pitcher Johnny Taylor off the ground. Taylor did not allow Valdez an earned run in seven innings pitched.  
Kuhns struck out the side in the second inning and retired nine batters in a row.

When Valdez finally did get a base hit to lead off the sixth inning, the Mariners promptly turned a double play.

Kuhns went 2 for 3 with a run scored and Jim Pollack hit a homerun.

In Saturday's game, the Mariners got a complete game out of Taylor, who fanned seven batters in seven innings, including the side in the second. All three Kodiak runs were unearned.

The Mariners trailed 2-1 after three innings, but Taylor was unfazed.

"I knew we'd get the bats going so it wasn't that much of a worry," he said.

With Homer up 3-2 in the fifth, the Mariners pushed across four runs in a rally propelled by Neil Kuipers' which drove in Tom Crandall and Jim Pollack.

The Mariners made the Buccaneers pay for their mistakes. Five of the eight Homer runs were the result of Valdez errors.

The Mariners are likely hoping their opportunistic hitting continues at State.

Now Homer, in just its second year of eligibility as a Alaska School Activities Association sponsored baseball program, turns its sights to the next hurdle, a first-round date with Lathrop on Friday.

Winning a berth to State is particularly gratifying for the Mariners, who missed the tournament last year after losing a tie-breaker coin toss to Wasilla.

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