Vikings baseball team runners-up at state championships
June 9, 2022
The Petersburg High School baseball team far exceeded their expectations in the ASAA Division II state championships last weekend in Wasilla, winning their first two games and finishing their season within reach of the state championship.
Though the team finished one step from glory, they can take pride in earning their first ever win in the Division II tournament and marking the first time Petersburg baseball has competed in the championship game.
"It was a very fun trip and I'm thrilled for those kids and thrilled for the program," Head Coach Jim Engell said.
He added that it is a big step forward, and now the question is how can they get back to the final next season.
In their first game of the tournament, the No. 1 at-large Vikings went up against comparably sized Monroe Catholic out of Fairbanks, winning 19-6 with their highest run total of the season.
Petersburg jumped to a comfortable eight run lead in the top of the first inning which they stretched through the game with seven more in the third inning and four in the fifth inning to seal the mercy rule victory.
Owen Anderson, Gage Massin, Kieran Cabral, Lathum Johnson, and Jack Engell batted at or above .600 in the game.
The short game also meant Engell, who struck out eight batters and gave up six hits and six walks, was able to pitch the entire game without help from the bullpen.
"Our goal was to get to Saturday and we we're going to use our number one and two to get there," Coach Engell said.
Hot off the heels of their first tournament victory, the team kept their eyes glued to Kodiak's game that night in anticipation for their next challenge which proved to be tougher.
The Vikings were scoreless against the Bears until the bottom of the fourth inning when Hunter Conn's bunt and a Kodiak error scored one run and got him to third base.
A balk gave Conn a free pass to home and put Petersburg in the lead 2-1.
The Bears pulled ahead again in the top of the fifth inning with three runs scored but Petersburg came back to make it 5-4 and a scoreless seventh inning sent them to the state championship game.
Senior Lathum Johnson pitched the complete game, recording nine strikeouts, and got the final out, a pop up to shortstop, on his 120th pitch.
"The kids just erupted in jubilation," Coach Engell said.
"It was an excitement that they just have never gotten to experience before in baseball and a pretty special moment realizing that we were going to be playing for the state title."
Though Petersburg already knew the quality of their final opponent, Soldotna, who went 10-1 in their conference this season, they quickly experienced it first-hand in the first two innings of the final on Saturday.
The Vikings were down 8-0 after two innings but scored four in the top of the third to spark some hope.
Timely hits, however, evaded them and Soldotna added six to their lead in the bottom of the fourth inning and eventually won the championship by mercy rule in the fifth inning 14-4.
"Now we've been there and we have the taste of it so our expectations will be greater next year," Coach Engell said.
In addition to the runners-up trophy, Johnson and Engell were named to the all-state tournament team.
"You want to enjoy the moment because it's a big deal and these kids have something that nobody can take from them," Coach Engell said.
"We got a banner we're going to get to hang in the gym now, trophy for the trophy case, but I don't think they're satisfied with it. I think they want to figure out a way to win a title and it's going to be a challenge because we still are a small team."
He added that it was a wonderful experience to see the kids he had coached since Majors All-Stars be able to compete at a high level and said as many as six or seven starters will be returning next season.