Alaskans finish 1-2 for batting title in Arizona college league
Kenai’s Paul Steffensen and Soldotna’s Jake Darrow battled down to the wire after spending much of the season matching each other knock for knock and taking turns leading the league in hitting.
Steffensen’s .404 average edged his baseball buddy for the title by just five percentage points in race that came down to the final few at-bats. Darrow finished at .399.
“Both of us are very highly competitive and I definitely wanted to beat him,” Darrow told me. “I think I probably wanted to beat him more than actually win the batting title, but I never wanted to see him fail. I just wanted to do better.”
Both players made Alaska baseball look good, especially the Kenai Legion Post 20 program where they played. Steffensen won a state title with the Twins in 2016 and Darrow won a state championship in 2012.
In 2018, both players were named first team all-stars in the ACCAC.
“I think (our success) says a lot about baseball players out of the Kenai Peninsula and Alaska as a whole,” Darrow said. “It just goes to show that it doesn’t matter where you come from if you work hard enough.”
Steffensen, of Kenai High fame, is a freshman left fielder for Mesa Community College. He led the league with 84 hits in 54 games, including a league-high 10 triples. He was fifth with 117 total bases.
He got a base hit in his first game and kept it going, reaching 26 straight games, which is believed to be the longest hitting streak by a collegiate player from Alaska.
“I just try to simplify things as much as I can,” Steffensen told me. “It’s still baseball wherever you’re playing it. Yeah, the pitching is going to be better and the teams will be better, but for the most part it’s still baseball.”
Darrow, of Soldotna High fame, is a sophomore center fielder for Eastern Arizona College. He had 65 hits in 47 games and batted .519 in his team’s 16 wins. He also struck out only 14 times in 184 plate appearances.
He returned to competitive baseball in 2017 for the first time in three years after sitting out as a redshirt at another school and then taking part in a two-year religious mission.
Darrow’s past prepared him for success in the future.
“Being a part of the American Legion in Alaska and Post 20 program was some of the best years of my life and we always competed and played hard,” Darrow said. “Post 20 has had great coaches involved for years who have focused on playing the game the right way.”