Lady M's win softball regions in dramatic fashion
June 1st | Sean Pearson
Homer team heads to state tournament in Fairbanks this week
After braving 10 chilly hours of softball amid everything from brisk winds, rain and hail, to a trip through the losers' bracket and extra innings, the Homer Lady Mariner softball team outlasted the Soldotna Stars 12-4 to win the 2017 Northern Lights Conference tournament on Saturday at Jack Gist Park in Homer.
It wasn't always pretty, but it certainly was exciting.
Region play for the Mariners started last Friday with a three-inning, 24-2 drubbing of the Kenai Kardinals. The Lady M's moved on to then face SoHi in the semifinals, but struggled to get their bats going, and fell 5-16.
Fighting their way back up to the finals, Homer used 14 hits to blow past Kodiak 18-3. They then set their sights on beating the Stars. And with this being a double-elimination tournament, they would have to beat them twice.
So they did.
Homer and SoHi traded runs throughout the game, 11-11 after five innings — and then 13-13 after regulation play.
SoHi took the lead with two runs in the top of the eighth, but the Mariners answered with two of their own in the bottom of the eighth, and the battle continued. The Stars added a run in the top of the ninth, but Homer scored two in the bottom of the ninth to pick up the 17-16 victory.
Brianna Hetrick hit two doubles in the game, and drove in three runs. Malina Fellows and Rylee Doughty each added a double, and senior Mary Hana Bowe logged a triple. Annali Metz picked up three RBIs.
Annalynn Brown picked up the win for Homer, pitching 8 2/3 innings and giving up 12 runs on 12 hits. She walked three batters and struck out four, and helped her own cause with two RBIs from the plate.
Faced with what would be — win or lose — the last game of the tournament, the Lady Mariners kept their bats warm going into the championship game. They turned up the heat with a seven-run third inning that put them up 10-0. SoHi scored their first runs — four of them — in the top of the fifth, but another two Homer runs in the bottom of the fifth gave the M's the win — and the 2017 title.
Annali Metz was the winning pitcher. She pitched five innings, gave up four runs on four hits, walked two and struck out three.
"That was the best game they've had all season in terms of bearing down," said Homer coach Bill Bell. "It was good to see them dig deep and realize they could play ball. We practiced little things as they saw how the little things really help or hurt if not accomplished."
Bell said he was impressed with consistent hitting from Kaitlyn Johnson, and called Mary Hana Bowe's defense "incredible."
And, while some of us watching the games experienced a roller coaster of emotions and blood-pressure fluctuations, Bowe said she remained relatively unfazed.
"Of course, I always have my weaker moments throughout games," she admitted. "But, over the years, I've learned to drown out the negative voices and always pick up my teammates — because that improves my own spirits as well."
Bowe said her main focus is always on having fun and enjoying the game, as it helps her stay positive and keeps her excited and focused on doing her best.
"I love my team because they're all very light-hearted most of the time, which makes it easy to get over mistakes," she added. "Bill emphasizes flushing out mistakes and working on them at our next practice, rather than dwelling on them in the moment."
Bowe currently leads at the plate for Homer with 32 hits, four home runs and a .582 batting average. Elsie Smith is hitting .472 with 25 hts.
The Lady Mariners are currently 15-1 in their division, and are already in Fairbanks preparing for their State Championship appearance.
Bell said he expects the team's toughest competition at State to come from the Southeast Conference.
"We will probably be close to even with the mid-Alaska folks," he said. "It will be an eye-opener for the freshmen."
Regardless of how things go at State — obviously mistakes are bound to happen — Bell said it's important to remember that it doesn't really matter.
"The players know they can learn from it, make adjustments, and maybe they will fail again," he explained. "But hopefully they will fail better the next time."
Bell said both women and men have to feel good to play good.
"If they don't feel good about themselves — and teenage girls have so many self-doubts about themselves — if you undermine that, you are lost," he said. "That is my underlying hope from them playing softball; they will come out of a game that is based on failure, and be able to channel that in their next life chapters."