Homer Alaska - Sports

Story last updated at 6:43 PM on Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Mariners softball No. 1 in NLC

By Lindsay Johnson
Staff Writer


Photo by Cathy Davis

The Mariners varsity softball team poses during a break in games at Sitka in May. In the back row, from left are Coach Bill Bell, Katie Kirsis, Alicia Stafford, Brooke Devaney, Zoey Fogg, Kayla Hutt, Hannah LaRue, Monica Davis and Assistant Coach Jen Liston. In front, Katie McNary, Krystal Edens, Kelsey Coates, Edrie Evarts, Ashley Ketelle, Lauren Cashman.

With an 8-0 win over Kodiak last Wednesday, the Mariners softball team got a ticket to state. On Saturday, they were upgraded to first class.

After seven intense innings in Soldotna, Homer triumphed 5-3 over SoHi's Stars to land the no. 1 seed in the Northern Lights Conference and finish an undefeated conference season.

The Ms are regular travelers to the small schools state tournament, having made the trip five of the past six years, but the last time they topped the league to earn the bye was in 2007.

Soldotna took third in state last year after bumping Homer out of the tournament. Most of the Stars seniors shared that memory as one of their career favorites during "senior night" before the game Saturday.

That reminder may have been what gave both teams a game to remember.

"It got me pretty fired up," said Mariner senior Ashley Ketelle of her peers' remarks.

After a pep talk and a solid season of playing together, the Ms were more than ready to take on their rivals.

"We were all really nervous but we knew we could beat them," said senior Alecia Stafford.

The Stars only other season loss was a 12-7 season opener in Homer.

The Ms tipped off the first inning by loading the bases then leaving them. Soldotna earned the fist run of the game on a double and a single in the bottom of the first.

A scoreless second inning led into a hot third for the Mariners, in which they took the lead with two runs.

Soldotna matched the score with a run in the fourth, which Homer reciprocated in the fifth.

With a 3-2 lead at the top of the seventh, Homer launched a series of strong singles to score two more before settling into defense mode for the final showdown.

The Stars sent two up and the Ms put two down before the next two batters walked on full-count pitches. After hitting seven hard fouls, Soldotna's Briana VinZant loaded bases with a single to far left field. The Stars scored on an error, keeping the bases loaded for their leading home run hitter, who hit a ground ball to Homer thirdbaseman Kayla Hutt. A practiced play home allowed everyone to breathe deeply again.

"The girls pulled it off," said Homer Head Coach Bill Bell. "It's just a great group of motivated girls."

The team credits their success to their camaraderie.

"I think that we played with our hearts and we played together as a team," Stafford said. "Everybody participated in the victory."

Hannah LaRue pitched all seven innings, striking out four, allowing five hits and no walks until the seventh.

Ketelle went four for four at bat, LaRue and Stafford three for four and Lauren Cashman two for three.

"Everything was against us. All the umps, all the fans, but we were able to stay strong and able to play our game and not their game," Stafford said.

Their game, Bell said, is very fundamentally strong. And they spent nearly three hours each day this week working with the full coaching staff before hitting the highway for Anchorage this morning.

The girls are optimistic about where they can get with their cohesive team and top-notch training.

"We've been practicing really hard so I think we have the little things down. I think we'll be able to get farther than we did. I think everybody wants it," said Ketelle, adding, not just for themselves, but for Bell.

"We're all just really wanting to take home a win for him."

Besides Stafford and Ketelle, Zoe Fogg, Kelsey Coates, Edrie Evarts and Krystal Edens graduate from the team.

The Ms will face the winner of Monroe-Catholic vs. Ketchikan game at 1 p.m. tomorrow. Soldotna starts out with Eilson at 9 a.m. Play continues Saturday, with the small schools championship game at 1 p.m.