One thing more than any other has Kodiak baseball skipper Jason Fox excited about the prospects of the 2023 campaign.
This edition of Bears baseball is loaded with top-end talent and highly-touted prospects. Credit a boom in baseball on the island for that. There are 32 players — 11 freshmen and 10 sophomores — in the program, a number Fox says hasn’t been reached during his previous six seasons.
“The younger age and the depth are the most pleasing to see as a coach, in terms of longevity and these guys playing together for a little while,” said Fox, entering this year with an overall record of 60-45.
Kodiak has prospered since 2021 when the Alaska School Activities Association created a Division II classification for smaller schools. The Bears reached the state championship game in the first year of the remodel, and last year reached the state semifinals and finished fifth.
Expect the same kind of success this season.
Kodiak returns three key cogs — Hunter Williams, Alex Holland and Malakai Olson — from last year’s team that was 10-14 and came up two runs shy of reaching the state championship game for the second straight season.
“There is a lot of excitement,” Fox said. “A lot of our starters are back who got us to the state tournament. Continuing from last year is a huge positive. … “It’s normal expectations. We should hope to compete with our region and hopefully make it back to the state tournament.”
Williams — a senior pitcher and infielder — returns from a stellar junior season where he posted a .467 batting average, recorded an ERA of 2.69, fanned 36 batters in 26 innings and landed on the Southcentral Conference first team.
He continued his run deep into the summer with the Post 20 Kenai Twins, helping them finish tied for third at the state American Legion baseball tournament. The right-hander was named the pitcher of the tournament for having a sparkling 0.70 ERA with 10 strikeouts in 10 innings.
“His baseball experience has exponentially grown over the last year,” Fox said. “He got that wonderful experience during the summertime, got a lot of extra innings that he just wasn’t able to get here.”
Holland — a speedy senior center fielder — was Kodiak’s table setter a year ago, reaching base in half of his at-bats and swiping 20 bases. That earned him SCC second-team honors.
Olson — a junior pitcher and infielder — was also part of the Twins’ postseason run and will rejoin Williams and senior Jon Flerchinger this year atop the Bears’ rotation. Holland and freshmen Landon Alford and Jeremy Mahle — younger brother of former Kodiak ace Brandon Mahle — add depth to the Bears’ pitching staff that wasn’t there a season ago.
“Last year, we relied on three guys, and their pitch counts were pretty high,” said Fox, a former college pitcher. “The ability to be flexible on the mound is going to be really good.”
Along with pitching, aggressive base running will also be an identity of the team, according to Fox.
Kodiak opens the season by hosting the four-day Rex Edward Matautia Invitational that begins today at Baranof Field. Wasilla opens the tournament against Colony at 3 p.m., followed by Kodiak against Wasilla at 6 p.m.
On Thursday, the Bears play Wasilla at 3 p.m. and Colony at 6 p.m. The schedule for Friday and Saturday is to be determined based on the weather, which the National Weather Service has snow and rain in the forecast for both days.
Kodiak doesn’t have many home games after this weekend, with the Bears hosting Kenai (April 21-22) and Homer (May 1-2). The Bears have six straight road conference games leading into the Southcentral Conference Championships in Kenai (May 25-27).
April 12-15 — Rex Matautia Invitational Tournament at Baranof Field
April 21-22 — Kenai at Baranof Field
April 27-29 — at the Buddy Dale Tournament in Wasilla
May 1-2 — Homer at Baranof Field
May 4 — at Redington
May 5-6 — at Soldotna
May 18 — at Houston
May 19 — at Grace
May 20 — at Palmer
May 25 — Regions at Kenai
May 26 — Regions at Kenai
May 27 — Regions at Kenai
June 1-3 — Division II State Championships in Wasilla
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