The Bears clinched their first conference crown since 2009 during a practice when they learned that they edged Homer by a tiebreaker. Both teams finished conference play with a 6-2 record.
“We just talked about it briefly and everybody was excited,” senior third baseman Sydney Hosier said. “Then we just got right back to practice to try to stay focused for state.”
Being the top team in the NLC was a goal fourth-year Kodiak coach Sam Catt had for his senior-laden team. The Bears have seven seniors who will finish their high school careers this weekend in Anchorage.
“We are excited and happy that we met our goal, but it was kind of strange the way it happened,” Catt said. “It wasn’t like we won a game and celebrated ... it was an anticlimatic deal.”
The conference championship came with a big reward — a first-round bye at the small-school state championships that begin today at Cartee Fields in Anchorage. The Bears will play the North Pole/Ketchikan winner in a winners’ bracket semifinal game at 3:30 p.m.
All it will take for Kodiak is three consecutive wins to claim the program’s first state title since 2008 and a chance to finally celebrate like champions.
Kodiak will face stiff competition for the first-place hardware. Juneau-Douglas and North Pole — two large-school powers — joined the small-school division this season and both qualified for the state tournament. Juneau won the tough Southeast Conference, while North Pole captured the Mid-Alaska Conference.
Kodiak lost a pair of games to Juneau — 11-0 and 12-4 — to begin the season.
“I think we are a completely different team coming around this time,” Hosier said. “In the beginning we were not focused and we just wanted to go out.”
Catt also said the team has grown since the season opener.
“We have gotten better and our hitting has definitely come around,” Catt said. “Juneau is a good team — they are tough ... but we have the potential to give them a run for their money.”
Kodiak could face Juneau, who also received a first-round bye — in the winners’ bracket championship game at 9 a.m. on Saturday. The winner of that game advances to play the consolation bracket winner in the championship game.
Last year, Kodiak went 0-2 in its first state appearance since 2009. With more experience this year, the team is hoping for a longer stay.
“Everyone’s nerves were there and that reflected on how we played,” senior Kristina Stobinski said. “If we have fun this time it will be like, ‘”Whoa, we can do this’ and just forget about all the pressure and just go the top.”
With only six teams in the tournament, Kodiak has a one and six chance to be the last team standing. Hutchison and Homer also made the tournament.
“I would like it better if we were the only ones there,” Catt said. “It is going to be tough, but it is not undoable. I tell the girls all the time, any of those teams can be beat on any day.”
One thing is for certain; the small-school classification will have a new champion come Saturday evening. Four-time defending state champion Sitka did not qualify for the tournament.
“It might as well be us,” Catt said.
Hosier is simply focusing on getting Kodiak’s first state win since 2009.
“We are just going to take it a day at a time like we have been,” she said. “If we think too far ahead we get a little antsy and things just start going downhill.”
Contact Mirror writer Derek Clarkston at email@example.com.